March 21, 2023

For Senior Nutrition, Every Bite Counts

Spring is planting season, so it’s fitting that March is dedicated to healthy eating. Fifty years ago, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics designated this month as National Nutrition Month. This annual campaign invites everyone to explore how they can make informed food choices, develop healthful eating habits, and incorporate more physical activity into their days.

Seniors, in particular, need good nutrition. Older adults are more likely to develop chronic conditions and diseases, like osteoporosis and cancer. Eating foods rich in nutrients, as well as staying active, can reduce the risk of developing these illnesses. Also, changes in body composition and seniors’ common need to take multiple medications may impact the body’s need for nutrients. Each bite counts, especially since elders tend to eat less and require fewer calories.

If you aren’t fortunate enough to be at Kline Galland, with dietitian-approved support for individual nutritional needs, here are some tips to help older adults eat right.

  • Watch portion size. Knowing what a healthy plate of food looks like is the best first step. For seniors, half the plate should be fruits and vegetables. A wide variety that includes dark greens, bold reds, and bright oranges will provide the most benefits. They can be fresh, frozen, or canned – just ensure the salt levels are listed as low or “no salt added.” Using smaller plates and bowls can help with portion size.
  • Get enough lean protein. Most older adults, particularly those over 71 years, don’t eat enough protein. Protein is essential in preventing the loss of lean muscle mass. Meat, poultry, and eggs are great, but don’t forget other sources like seafood, dairy, beans and nuts. Alternative proteins often provide additional, much-needed nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and fiber.
  • Stay hydrated. The sensation for thirst declines with age, so remembering to drink enough fluids can be hard for seniors. Water is the no-calorie choice, preventing dehydration and aiding digestion. Other unsweetened beverages are a good way to encourage hydration. Choices like100% fruit juices, low- or fat-free milk, fortified soy beverages, or unsweetened tea (hot or cold) can be good substitutes for sugared favorites.
  • Incorporate whole grains. Favorite foods like cereals, breads, pasta, and crackers don’t have to be given up. Instead, select versions that are 100% whole grains at least half the time. Meals can include whole grain corn tortillas, brown rice, and oats. Some cereals are whole grain, fiber-rich, with added B-12 – a trifecta of nutrition!
  • Enjoy the food. Eating should remain enjoyable. Different cooking methods may ensure pleasurable eating if chewing or swallowing abilities change. Sharing mealtimes with others is another way to increase enjoyment; the food becomes better with conversation while building better habits.

In the autumn of our lives, good nutrition remains essential. Celebrate National Nutrition Month by recommitting to healthy aging with healthy food; it’s never too late to start.

Sources: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; US DHHS; National Council on Aging.