As we get older, the importance of what we put into our bodies should not be taken lightly. In fact, maintaining a healthy diet could be the difference between life and death for some seniors with chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. March is National Nutrition Month® and this is a time to look at appropriate food choices and how proper nutrition impacts health.
Following a healthy and balanced diet helps you get the necessary vitamins and minerals to keep your body functioning properly and maintain energy levels. It also helps lower the risk of developing a chronic disease or helps keep your condition in check if you already have one. Eating properly can also help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
What’s on your plate?
If you’re not sure about whether you’re following a healthy diet or not, take a look at what’s on your plate during meals. Do the proportions of meat surpass those of the grains or vegetables? Is there lots of color on your plate or is it full of browns and beiges? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends 2 cups of vegetables daily for women age 51 and older and 2 ½ cups for men over the age of 51. Ideally, half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables followed by healthy grains and lean sources of protein such as poultry, fish, beans or peas. Try to think of meat as a garnish instead of the centerpiece of a meal. For people age 51 and older, the USDA recommends a daily protein amount of 5 ounces for women and 5 ½ ounces for men.
The USDA states that most people consume enough grains, but few of those are whole grains. The agency recommends that half of all grains should be whole grains such as whole-wheat, oatmeal and brown rice. For people age 51 and older, a daily grain amount of 5 ounces is recommended for women and 6 ounces for men. Getting older also means keeping a watch on the amount of dairy in your diet. The USDA recommends that seniors drink three cups of fat-free or low-fat milk during the day or eat small amounts of various dairy products such as yogurt, hard cheeses and lactose-free foods.
Sometimes, as we age, food may become less appealing and eating regular meals may feel like an unenjoyable chore. Also, changes to our senses or dental health can contribute to meals having less appeal than when we were younger. If you’re finding that food is starting to lose its flavor or tastes different to you, try adding more herbs and spices. If you are experiencing dental problems that make eating difficult, try eating softer foods like pureed fruits, vegetables and meats. To add nutrients, you could also supplement your meals with healthy smoothies blended with fresh fruits or leafy vegetables. If you don’t like to eat alone, invite a friend or loved one to have meals with you. If you live in a nursing home, try having as many meals as possible in the dining room. The extra company will make meals more enjoyable and give you a chance to catch up with friends and acquaintances.
It’s never too late to make positive changes to your lifestyle. Learning more about healthy eating this month is a small step toward helping your body function better and improving your overall well-being.