Practical tips for eating healthy at home (or on the go)
Eating healthy should be enjoyable, whether you’re homebound or on the go.
But older adults sometimes lose interest in eating, find food preparation taxing or leave behind good eating habits. And that’s dangerous because eating right can help keep your body and mind healthy and extend your quality of life, according to researchers at Harvard University.
Fortunately, older adults can start or reignite necessary healthy eating habits, regardless of their activity and mobility levels.
“An important consideration, is it’s never too late to build better habits and improve your health,” says Samuel Walker, a Registered Dietician and owner of Samuel Walker Nutrition Consulting. “As we age, we experience multiple physical changes in our bodies. Metabolism decreases, altering levels of hunger and appetite, as well as the amount of energy we feel. And with less food being eaten, we can experience nutrient deficiencies. Along with these deficiencies, we see decline in areas such as mental cognition, bone and joint health, and lean body mass. Focusing on healthy nutrition habits can go a long way in mitigating decline, which will help support quality of life and independence.”
Here are practical tips older adults can use for eating healthy (or healthier):
Keep a schedule – but don’t be afraid to deviate
“The best schedule for each individual will look different based on their particular lifestyle – fortunately, there is no one mold you need to conform to foster great nutrition and bolster your health,” Walker says.
Establish a routine, regardless of how many meals and snacks you prefer each day. And that routine is about more than just the time you eat. Think about where you eat and similar foods you’ll have at similar times each day.
“For example, having a staple breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, followed by dinner helps to build regular patterns, which serve as a foundation for your nutritional practices,” says Walker.
When you create routines, you’ll develop patterns. Patterns become habits and good habits will help create mental and physical well-being.
“Remember, it is perfectly OK to deviate from your routine at times,” Walker reminds us. “But having one in place ensures you have a healthy base to get back on track – you’re always just one bite away!”
Focus on nutrients
“While it is true that we need fewer calories as we age, our nutrient needs actually increase with age – this means that focusing nutrition around nutrient-dense foods, and perhaps supplements, becomes more important,” Walker says.
Older adults want to focus on these nutrients:
“Older adults have less total body water. We literally get drier with age and have a higher risk of dehydration,” says Walker.
Some people just don’t get as thirsty as they once did, which can lead to dehydration.
Recommendation: Aim to drink two to three liters of fluids each day, knowing you also get fluids through some foods. Focus mainly on water to “promote proper digestion and decrease constipation, improve cognition and mental acuity, and reduce strain on the kidneys,” Walker says.
Protein builds and maintains muscle tissue. Older adults actually need more protein in their daily diet as they age.
“Fear not!” Walker says, ” Maintaining a diet with plenty of lean meats, low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, and cheese – which will help support higher calcium needs – can ensure you are getting enough protein.”
Recommendation: Try to get protein at each meal or snack, ideally in a portion that’s the size of the palm of your hand. That should give you roughly 20 grams of high quality protein.
Carbs are a source of energy and fiber. The more active you are, the more carbohydrates you need.
“Great sources of quality carbs include whole-grain breads and pastas, fruits of all kinds, and starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, corn, peas, beans and lentils. Even better, those beans and lentils are loaded with fiber and pack a bit of protein too.
Recommendation: Try following the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Plate. At most meals, fill half of your plate with vegetables. You might have a half or full serving of fruit as part of a snack, too.
Yep, you want and need fats in your daily diet.
“Dietary fat is important for hormonal and inflammation regulation, as well as for transporting a number of nutrients in the body,” Walker says.
In particular, the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are considered “essential fatty acids” because our bodies can’t make them.
Recommendation: To pick up those important fats, try fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring, and plant-based sources include chia, flax, hemp seeds and walnuts, which are rich in omega-3. Small amounts of olive and canola oils, nuts and nut butters, as well as avocados are high in omega-6.
Walker’s final advice:
“Maintaining a diet that includes a variety of those foods listed above will ensure you are getting most of your required vitamins, minerals, as well as beneficial antioxidants. The old adage, ‘Eat the rainbow’ is well-suited here!
“However, when intake through food alone is insufficient, a high-quality multivitamin may help bring up lagging areas. Opt for one formulated for older adults, which will be low or free of vitamin A, as chances of toxicity increase with age due to higher absorptive rates of this vitamin.
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