As we age, our bodies change, and our relationship with food evolves. Even if your appetite decreases, you need to prioritize foods that help you get the nutrients that fuel a dynamic, fulfilling life. Take a few minutes to learn about foods and beverages that help older adults get the nutrients needed to keep bodies healthy and brains sharp.
What kind of foods fuel our bodies as we age?
In general, experts recommend that older adults eat foods such as:
- Vegetables: Nutrient-rich, low-calorie vegetables have many benefits. They’re full of fiber, and research shows eating leafy greens, like spinach, can even help slow Alzheimer’s disease. Try to eat vegetables of all colors, such as kale, red peppers, and carrots.
- Fruits: Most older Americans don’t eat enough fruit. Fruits provide vitamins that help keep the digestive system moving and can help us reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. When using canned or frozen fruits, avoid options that have lots of added sugar.
- Protein: Keep muscles, bones, and energy strong with protein-packed foods. Most older adults get enough red meat, eggs, and poultry in their diet, however, they don’t get enough vegetarian proteins (such as nuts, beans, hummus, and lentils) or seafood or fish. So don’t forget those bean and fish dishes.
- Whole grains: Whole grains are a good source of fiber, which is essential to a healthy diet and helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol. These days, it’s easy to add more whole grains to our diets with whole-grain varieties of bread, pasta, cereal, and more.
- Low-fat dairy: Dairy is important to bone health, including keeping osteoporosis at bay. Aim for around three servings of low-fat dairy—such as milk, yogurt, or cheese—each day.
- Healthy fats: Not all fats are bad. Some foods provide “healthy” fats that lower the risk of heart disease, improve cholesterol levels, regulate blood sugar, and reduce inflammation. Examples of foods that provide healthy fats include avocados, almonds, olive oil, olives, salmon, tuna, and nuts.
- Vitamin B12: As we get older, our bodies have a harder time processing Vitamin B12, which can lead to Vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 can help ward off anemia, nerve issues, and cognitive impairment. Find B12 in fortified cereals, fortified nutritional yeast, tuna, salmon, trout, eggs, and milk and dairy products.
What foods might slow us down?
Try to avoid foods that have excessive amounts of:
- Added sugar: Sugar is hidden in everything from fruit juice to granola bars. Check food labels to see if there may be more sugar than expected.
- Saturated fats: Replace saturated fats—such as processed meats, cold cuts, cheeses, and butters—with healthy fats from fish, chicken, avocado, and olive oils.
- Sodium: A salt habit can be hard to break, but try using other seasonings or citrus juices to add new, interesting flavors to favorite recipes.
Hydration is a part of a healthy lifestyle, too
As we age, we might not feel as thirsty as we did in the past, but staying hydrated is essential. Try to drink the equivalent of eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. (It’s ok if you can’t drink all 8 ounces at once.)
Other good beverage options, in moderation, include coffee, tea, low-fat/fat-free milk, or 100% fruit juice with no sugar added. Avoid sugary drinks such as soda or energy drinks when possible, and keep alcohol consumption to 1-2 drinks a day or less. The effects of alcohol may be more pronounced as we get older and increase the risk of falling.
Ways to make eating well a bit easier
To make meals easier and more enjoyable:
- Plan meals in advance. We’re more likely to eat healthy options if we plan ahead. So, make a list of dishes to try before getting groceries. Have fun experimenting.
- Look for shortcuts at the store. Have trouble prepping fruits or vegetables? Look for pre-cut fruits and vegetables, or find frozen fruits and vegetables without added sugar. Don’t be afraid to ask the employees at the meat counter to slice meat into smaller portions or get premade dinners from the deli.
- Know how medications interact with food. Medications and food don’t always work together. Stomach upsets, acid reflux, or diarrhea can be signs of an issue. (Talk to your doctor to see if there are specific foods to avoid or well with your specific medications.)
Take advantage of services that provide groceries or meals
Having good nutrition is critical to living life fully, but groceries can be expensive, and getting to and from the store can be a challenge. Luckily, there are several services that can help—from Meals on Wheels to SNAP. See a list of helpful programs from the USDA.