As you age, your appetite often changes and food doesn't quite taste like you remember. However, it's still essential that you make healthy choices as a senior. What you eat not only impacts your health, but also how you feel. Making the right food choices nourishes your body and gives you the energy you need for an active and social lifestyle. A healthy diet for elderly people is one that includes nutritious foods from all the food groups.
A Change in Calories
When you reach your golden years, you need less calories than you did when you were younger. That's due to the change in your body composition -- more fat and less muscle -- and a decrease in activity. How many calories you need daily depends on your gender and physical activity. In general, calorie needs for women over the age of 51 range from 1,600 to 2,200 calories a day, and calorie needs for men over the age of 51 range from 2,000 to 2,800 calories per day. The challenge with needing fewer calories is that you may find it harder to meet your nutrient needs, making it even more important that you include primarily nutrient-rich foods in your diet.
Fruits and Vegetables Front and Center
When it comes to maximizing your nutrient intake, you can't go wrong eating more fruits and vegetables. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests that you fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, which are low in calories, high in fiber and contain nutrients that are important as you age. For example, broccoli, spinach and cantaloupe contain vitamin C and the phytochemicals lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene. These nutrients may help prevent, or at least slow, the onset of macular degeneration, according to Colorado State University Extension.
Fiber-Up with Whole Grains
Fiber is another important nutrient for the elderly. Getting enough fiber in your diet prevents constipation, may help lower blood cholesterol levels and aids in blood sugar control. Like fruits and vegetables, whole grains are also a source of fiber. Furthermore, whole grains also help you meet your daily B vitamin, iron, magnesium and selenium needs. At least half of the grains in your diet should be whole grain, and should fill one-quarter of your plate at each meal. Whole grain options include whole-grain bread, oatmeal, brown rice, whole-grain ready-to-eat cereal and whole-wheat pasta.
Trade In Your Red Meat for Fish and Beans
When it comes to protein, you want to make sure that you get enough, but not too much. If you're not sure about your protein needs, talk to your doctor, especially if you have issues with your kidneys. To limit your intake of saturated fat, include more lean sources of protein such as fish, poultry and beans. To control calories, limit your protein portion to one-quarter of your plate.
Milk Does the Body Good
Bone health, specifically osteoporosis, is a concern for the elderly. Dairy foods are a good source of calcium and vitamin D. You should get three servings of low-fat or nonfat milk or other dairy products each day to promote bone health. If you have problems digesting milk, try lactaid milk or lactaid pills, or buttermilk and yogurt, which tend to be better tolerated than milk.
- National Institute on Aging: Healthy Eating After 50
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Healthy Eating for Olders Adults
- Colorado State University Extension: Nutrition and Aging
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: ChooseMyPlate.gov: Getting Started With MyPlate
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: ChooseMyPlate.gov: Food Groups