As people age, their nutrition requirements change, said Easter H. Tucker of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. With this in mind, individuals 65 years and older should make sure their diet is appropriate for their aging bodies.
“It’s important that seniors occasionally review their eating habits and check in with their healthcare physicians to make sure they are getting the right nutrients,” said Tucker, interim family and consumer sciences program leader for UAPB. “Older age can be made more enjoyable by a diet that enhances one’s health.”
Tucker recommends that seniors check out the following tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and upgrade their diets if necessary. To optimize their diets, seniors should:
• Drink plenty of liquids. With age, seniors can lose their sense of thirst. To stay hydrated, it’s important to drink water throughout the day. Low-fat or fat-free milk or 100 percent juice can also help a person stay hydrated.
• Plan healthy meals. Seniors can try cooking new, interesting recipes using healthy ingredients. Trusted nutrition advice is available online at ChooseMyPlate.gov.
• Know how much to eat. Portion control is key to ensuring seniors maintain a healthy weight, Tucker said. Individuals can use USDA’s MyPlate Plan to find the right calorie level based on their age, sex, height, weight and physical activity level.
• Vary vegetable consumption. Vegetables are a low-calorie source of nutrients and fiber. Tucker said a good rule of thumb is to include a variety of different-colored vegetables with meals.
• Eat for teeth and gums. Teeth and gums change as people age, and people with dental problems often find it hard to chew fruits, vegetables or meats. Softer foods such as unsweetened fruit, low-sodium soups or canned tuna can be good alternatives.
• Use herbs and spices. Tucker said that as people age, they may lose their sense of smell or taste to some degree. Some medicines also change people’s sense of taste. If favorite dishes seem to have lost some of their flavor, consider adding herbs and spices.
• Keep food safe. A food-related illness can be life-threatening for an older person, so it is important to throw out old foods that might not be safe. Seniors should avoid risky foods such as unpasteurized dairy products. Other foods such as eggs, sprouts, fish, shellfish, meat or poultry can be harmful when undercooked.
• Read the nutrition facts label. Seniors should ask their doctor if there are ingredients and nutrients they might need to limit or to increase. At the grocery store, they can then shop accordingly by reading the nutrition labels on products, while also paying attention to calories, fats and sodium.
• Consult the doctor about vitamins or supplements. Food is the best way to obtain nutrients, though dietary supplements – in the form of pills or powders – can be beneficial in some cases. Because an overabundance of nutrients may interfere with medicines or medical conditions, individuals should always consult with their doctors before purchasing vitamins or supplements.
“By following the USDA tips and regularly consulting with their physicians, individuals can help ensure they are meeting nutritional needs through their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond,” Tucker said.
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