By Tracy Weincouff, RD
Choosing healthy foods and getting the nutrients you need is important to do no matter what age you are. As a senior, it is especially important. Food provides the nutrients you need as you age and even though you aren’t growing anymore your body still needs certain nutrients to stay healthy. Eating poorly can lead to undesirable weight loss and a weakened immune system which can make you more susceptible to colds, flu and infections. Some of the benefits of proper nutrition include increased mental capacity/alertness, higher energy levels, better resistance to illness and disease, improve how you feel overall and encourages a sense of well-being. When you have good nutrition you feel better overall and stronger. Food provides the nutrients you need as you age. So what does good nutrition look like?
Eating a variety of foods from each food group will help you get all the nutrients you need. The food groups include fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy foods. Choosemyplate.gov has some great advice for making wise food choices. Fruits and vegetables should make up half of your plate. Focus on whole fruits and vegetables as these have the most nutrients particularly fiber. Incorporate fruits and vegetables into your main dish, snacks and desserts. Choose a variety of colors to maximize your nutrition. Protein foods include beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and peas, soy products like tofu and unsalted nuts and seeds. Pick lean cuts of meat to decrease fat intake. Vary your protein sources and even try vegetarian main dishes! Protein should comprise about a quarter of your plate with grains comprising the last quarter. Grains can be whole or refined. Whole grains have more fiber and half of the grains you consume in a day should be whole grain. Check the ingredient list and if whole grains is listed first or second, the item is whole grain. Some examples of the grain group include wheat, rice, oatmeal, barley, tortillas, pasta, dry cereal, bread. Dairy should be low-fat or fat-free and includes milk, yogurt and cheese. This group doesn’t have a percentage of the plate because it is typically served on the side or incorporated into the other groups.
It is important to limit saturated fat (fat that is solid at room temperature), added sugars and sodium. Read labels to see how much of these items are in the food. Choose vegetable oils or oil-based sauces instead of ones with butter or cream. Watch what you are drinking as many beverages have added sugars. Water is always a great choice! Choose low-sodium products when possible and limit salt that is added to recipes or at the table. If you are interested in learning more about a healthy diet and how much you should eat, choosemyplate.gov is an excellent online resource or meet with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.