As you get older, your body’s nutritional needs change, so aging well and living a vibrant and healthy life as a senior means it’s essential to adjust your diet to get proper nutrition.
Understanding the basics of nutrition and how to tailor it to your age will allow you to make informed choices and enjoy your meals to the fullest while providing your body with the nutrients it needs for healthy aging.
The basics of good nutrition for healthy aging
The evolution of your nutritional needs as you age
Your body’s muscle mass naturally decreases and your physical activity declines as you age, your energy requirements decrease. This means you might not need as many calories as you did in your younger days. However, while you might need fewer calories, your need for high-quality nutrients remains consistent or might even increase.
What’s healthy to eat?
- Protein: Maintain that muscle mass by incorporating lean meats like chicken, turkey, and fish. Plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, tofu, and quinoa are also excellent choices.
- Whole grains: Opt for whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and whole grain bread or pasta. These grains are loaded with fiber, which aids in digestion and keeps you feeling full.
- Fruits and vegetables: Remember the rainbow when choosing these foods! Different colors signify different nutrients, so mix and match fruits and vegetables of all hues.
- Dairy or dairy alternatives: Calcium and vitamin D are vital for bone health. Consume low-fat milk, yogurt, or fortified plant-based alternatives like almond or soy milk.
- Healthy fats: Include sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which support brain health. Good sources are salmon, flaxseeds, walnuts, and olive oil.
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Serving sizes and the recommended daily allowance (RDA)
While it’s tempting to rely on past habits, it’s important to revisit portion sizes as you get older. Here are some quick guidelines:
- Protein: A serving is about the size of your palm.
- Grains: Aim for a portion the size of your clenched fist.
- Fruits: A single serving often resembles the size of a tennis ball.
- Vegetables: A cup (or a handful) is a good serving size.
- Dairy: A single serving of milk is one cup, and for cheese, it’s the size of a small matchbox.
For specific nutrients (consult the packaging for the serving size):
- Vitamin D: Most seniors need about 800 IU per day.
- Calcium: Aim for 1,200 mg per day.
- Vitamin B12: Most adults need 2.4 micrograms per day.
- Fiber: Men need about 30 grams and women about 21 grams per day.
- Potassium: 2,600 mg for women and 3,400 mg for men is recommended.
Reading the “Nutrition Facts” labels
When shopping, you’ll notice “Nutrition Facts” labels on almost all food and beverage products. Here’s what to look for on the label:
- Serving Size: This is the first thing you’ll see. Remember, all the information on the label is based on this amount.
- Calories: Ensure you’re getting the most nutritional bang for your caloric buck.
- Nutrients: Limit saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium. Aim for more dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium.
- % Daily Value: This tells you how much of a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. For instance, if the %DV of calcium in a product is 20%, it means it provides 20% of the calcium you need daily.
Taking a moment to understand and adjust your diet can make all the difference. Here’s to your good health and many shared meals ahead! Cheers!
Independent living communities are a great way for older adults to maintain proper nutrition. For more information about the independent living lifestyle that a senior living community can offer, check out our free ebook, Just the Facts: Independent Living.