March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Men and women are living longer, enjoying energetic and active lifestyles well into their 80s and 90s. Study after study confirms eating well and being active can make a dramatic difference in the quality of life for older adults.
You are never too old to enjoy the benefits of improved nutrition and fitness. With nutrient-rich foods and activities with friends, you can feel an immediate difference in your strength, energy levels and enjoyment of life. In fact, as we get older, our food and activity choices become even more important to our health.
More Nutrients, Fewer Calories
As adults age, they need fewer total calories, but more nutrients, especially protein, B-vitamins and calcium. In terms of nutrition, you need to focus on quality not quantity. All your food choices, for every food group, need to be power-packed with more nutrients per calorie. For both optimal physical and mental health, older adults truly need to make every calorie count. For a healthy eating plan, choose foods from all the MyPlate food groups.
Retired people on limited incomes may have trouble buying enough nutrient-rich foods to meet all their nutritional needs. If this is a problem for you or someone you love, explore the options for senior meal sites, meals-on-wheels or supplemental nutrition assistance programs in your community.
The golden years are definitely not the time for extreme diets or drastic weight loss. Your goal should be to eat better while eating less. Fad diets frequently eliminate entire food groups, which can lead to serious nutrient gaps. Rapid weight loss often leads to a loss of lean body mass, exactly the opposite of what older people need for good health.
Aim for a stable weight as you get older. If you want to lose a few pounds, talk to your health provider or a registered dietitian nutritionist about the best plan for you. The right balance of foods and activities could help you lose a little fat, while maintaining strong muscles and bones.
Enjoy the Power of Protein
People of all ages need protein for strong, healthy bodies. Some older adults do not get the protein they need to maintain muscle mass, fight infection and recover from an accident or surgery. Chewing protein foods such as meat or chicken also can be a problem for some older adults. Here are a few tasty tips to pump up your protein intake, without upsetting your food budget or energy balance.
- Enjoy More Beans. Add canned beans to salads, soups, rice dishes and casseroles.
- Make Your Crackers Count. Spread peanut butter on your crackers and eat them along side soup, chili or salad.
- Pump Up Your Eggs. Mix grated, low-fat cheese or extra whites into scrambled eggs.
- Cook with Milk. Use fat-free or low-fat milk rather than water to make soup or oatmeal.
- Use Dry Milk Powder. Mix a spoonful of dry milk into fluid milk, cream soups and mashed potatoes.