Diets for Seniors: How to Eat Healthy in your Golden Years

Last Updated: July 17, 2018
Diets for seniors

Here's a fun fact you probably already knew: senior citizens have different diet and exercise needs than someone in their 20s, 30s, or even their 40s. But getting older doesn't mean you should neglect your health. On the contrary, staying on top of your exercise and nutritional needs can not only expand your lifespan, but improve your quality of life.

The Best Diets for Senior Health

It seems like every week, there's a new fad diet promising to help you lose weight and/or improve your overall health. With an increasing number of baby boomers - one of the most populous generations in american history - reaching their golden years, many of the latest diet trends revolve around catering to the specific health needs of seniors. In this section, we'll discuss some of the best diets we found for promoting health and wellness in people over the age of 65.

First off, there's the DASH diet. The acronym stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It addresses the fact that many seniors are struggling with their cardiovascular health by the time they reach retirement age. The diet is specifically engineered to help lower cardiovascular health risks and keep your ticker ticking for as long as possible.

What to eat on the dash diet - each day, you should strive to eat:

  • 6 - 8 servings of whole grains
  • 4 - 5 servings of fruits and vegetables
  • two to three servings of low-fat dairy
  • a maximum of 6 ounces of lean meat (such as fish or poultry)

On a weekly basis, you should also:

  • Try to eat 4 - 5 servings of nuts, seeds, and/or legumes
  • Replace sources of processed/trans fat with healthy fats and oils from whole food sources
  • Keep your intake of sweets down to five or fewer
  • Keep your sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams/day

Another senior friendly diet which crossed our radar is called the TLC diet. And no, that doesn't stand for "tender loving care" - it actually stands for Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes. The diet aims to help senior citizens reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by cutting down on unhealthy fats, limiting cholesterol intake, and increasing the amount of fiber they get each day.

What to eat on the TLC diet - the tlc diet is actually very simple. All you have to do is stay under your calorie limit, reduce saturated fat intake to less than 7% of your daily caloric value, and keep your cholesterol intake under 200 milligrams per day. Other than that, the American Heart Association emphasizes increasing your intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry (with the skin removed), and fish.

Lastly, there's a diet we're pretty sure you've already heard of: the Mediterranean diet. Unlike the other two previous diets, this one focuses on brain health, weight loss, cancer prevention, and controlling (or preventing) diabetes.

What to eat on the Mediterranean diet: the Mediterranean diet is the least regimented out of the three. all you have to do is stick to Mediterranean foods, such as:

  • Seafood
  • Olive oil
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Fruits, vegetables, and nuts - especially those the varieties which are native to the Mediterranean region

While on the mediterranean diet, be sure to keep your intake of poultry, cheese, yogurt, and eggs in moderation. Lastly, make sure you eat sweets and red meat sparingly; perhaps save them for a special occasion or as a rare treat.

Foods that Seniors Should Focus On

Virtually all seniors alive today have lived through the "Fat Wars". For a time in most westernized countries, especially during the 80s and 90s, fats were thought to be the boogeyman that caused obesity, cardiovascular disease, and more. But most of those claims couldn't be further from the truth. Healthy fats, such as those found in nuts, fish, plant oils, and organic dairy products are essential for optimal health. The fats you want to stay away from are trans fats, and any sort of "partially hydrogenated" oil listed under the ingredients section of your food label.

Protein, too, is an important part of every senior's diet that often gets neglected. Most seniors over the age of 50 should be getting around 0.5g of protein per pound of bodyweight. But make sure you put an emphasis on high quality protein, like eggs, nuts, fish, and whole-fat dairy products. Processed meats and/or red meat are okay from time to time, but too much can cause health problems.

Lastly, carbohydrates are not the enemy; as long as you're eating the right kinds of carbs, that is. What are the "right" carbs? Carbs from whole food sources. These can range from vegetables and fruits to whole grains, rice, and lentils. The more fiber your carbs come with, the better it is for your colon health and your metabolism.

Seniors and Weight Loss

For senior citizens, losing weight is even more important than for young people. Seniors who carry around excess weight have higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular problems, joint pain, and even diabetes. These numbers rise higher still depending on how much of that weight is carried around your waistline. If you are overweight, you might want to talk to your doctor or a fitness expert about ways you can shed the extra pounds.

There's another aspect of your health that exercise can improve, too: your brain health. If you worry about age-related brain diseases like Alzheimer's, memory loss, or just staying mentally sharp, physical activity can help keep your brain healthier, longer. There are mountains of studies which show all the specific ways that exercise improves your brain's health. Even a light walk 3-4 times per week can produce a significant boost in cognitive function.

Specific Nutritional Needs of Seniors

As you age, certain changes in your body may make it harder for you to get the nutrients you need to stay healthy. Likewise, other physical changes may leave you craving or adding things to your diet that aren't good for you. For example, your body starts to produce less saliva and stomach acid with age, which can have a detrimental influence on how well you digest and absorb micronutrients. And a lack of saliva means a lack of taste; this, in turn, can lead many seniors to over-salting their food or adding other unhealthy flavorings. Between the lack of nutrients and the additions of salt or unhealthy fats to bland-tasting foods, these changes can exacerbate certain health conditions (like heart disease) or cause new diseases to emerge due to nutritional deficiencies.

As hard as it is for young, healthy adults to cook their own food and keep track of their micronutrient intake, the struggle becomes even harder for senior citizens. Joining a local meal delivery program, like Meals on Wheels, can help you get the nutrition you need at a low cost. Nutrisystem - and meal plans like it - also include the convenience of home delivery with nutritious, precooked meals for you to enjoy. Many of these plans can also aid any weight loss goals you may have.

If you're interested in a home-delivered meal plan, weight loss over the age of 65, or just eating healthier in general, we have a variety of resources you can take advantage of. Be sure to check back regularly for more updates in our Senior Health Blog!

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