Eating a well-balanced diet is an important part of staying healthy, and paying attention to what you eat is a smart thing to do. According to the National Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Aging, one out of four older Americans has poor nutrition, which puts them at risk of becoming overweight or underweight. It can also weaken muscles and bones and leave them vulnerable to disease.
Retirement community setting
“When seniors come into a community setting, it’s a lot like dorm life for college students,” said Nikki Andress, activity director at Treemont Retirement Community. “They have these wonderful social and educational programs right on their doorstep every day, a strong community of people in a similar age bracket and usually with similar interests, and wonderful food prepared for them at every meal.”
Andress said that because they are not cooking the food, or even seeing the packaging, they don’t know what’s really in it, in terms of nutrition and calorie content. Maintaining proper nutrition becomes a serious hurdle.
“Add to that the plethora of events that activity directors like myself hold — always with tasty food and drinks — and it becomes even harder,” she said.
“The ‘freshman 15’ (gaining 15 pounds the first year of residence) is a very real thing. … They need access to the tools that will help them understand what they are eating and make the best decisions for their health,” said Andress. “It becomes even more complicated when you contend with short-term memory loss, where some forget what they learned almost immediately, which they will tell you openly. It’s not a secret.”
She said that she has to try to devise ways to show them, on an ongoing basis, how to identify good and bad food choices. They are discussing using little flags on their buffet line, with green to denote “healthier” options and red to denote items they may want to consume in moderation.
Tips from the National Institute on Aging on choosing foods for better health include:
With age, you may lose some of your sense of thirst. Drink plenty of liquids. This will help you digest food, absorb nutrients, and get rid of waste.
Plan healthy meals. Go to www.choosemyplate.gov and the National Institute on Aging websites. There you can get advice on what to eat, how much to eat, and what foods to choose.
Learn to control serving and portion size. For example, restaurant meals may be enough for two meals.
Include a variety of different colored vegetables. Most vegetables are a low-calorie source of nutrients and are also a good source of fiber.
Read nutrition facts labels on food items. These can help you make the right choices when buying food. Look for items that are lower in fat, added sugars and sodium.
Planning ahead and making a shopping list can help you eat healthier. Health experts recommend eating food that will be long-lasting fuel. Your body burns through sugars and highly processed carbohydrates, like white bread, white rice, or prepared bakery grains.
Don’t skip meals. It’s better to evenly space your meals out so your body gets the nourishment it needs all through the day. The Mediterranean diet is recommended. This is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and healthy fats, with an occasional glass of wine.
A healthy diet can help ward off heart problems, high blood pressure and other problems. It’s worth your time to learn more about nutrition and how it affects you.
For tips on healthy eating, visit www.nia.nih.gov/health/healthy-eating/.