Nutrition for Seniors
Benefits of Eating Well
Eating well is vital for everyone at all ages. Whatever your age, your daily food choices can make an important difference in your health and in how you look and feel.
Eating Well Promotes Health
Eating a well-planned, balanced mix of foods every day has many health benefits. For instance, eating well may reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, some kinds of cancer, and anemia. If you already have one or more of these chronic diseases, eating well and being physically active may help you better manage them. Healthy eating may also help you reduce high blood pressure, lower high cholesterol, and manage diabetes.
Eating well gives you the nutrients needed to keep your muscles, bones, organs, and other parts of your body healthy throughout your life. These nutrients include vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fats, and water.
Eating Well Promotes Energy
Eating well helps keep up your energy level, too. By consuming enough calories -- a way to measure the energy you get from food --you give your body the fuel it needs throughout the day. The number of calories needed depends on how old you are, whether you're a man or woman, your height and weight, and how active you are.
Food Choices Can Affect Weight
Consuming the right number of calories for your level of physical activity helps you control your weight, too. Extra weight is a concern for older adults because it can increase the risk for diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease and can increase joint problems. Eating more calories than your body needs for your activity level will lead to extra pounds.
If you become less physically active as you age, you will probably need fewer calories to stay at the same weight. Choosing mostly nutrient-dense foods -- foods which have a lot of nutrients but relatively few calories -- can give you the nutrients you need while keeping down calorie intake.
Food Choices Affect Digestion
Your food choices also affect your digestion. For instance, not getting enough fiber or fluids may cause constipation. Eating more whole-grain foods with fiber, fruits and vegetables or drinking more water may help with constipation.
Make One Change at a Time
Eating well isn't just a "diet" or "program" that's here today and gone tomorrow. It is part of a healthy lifestyle that you can adopt now and stay with in the years to come.
To eat healthier, you can begin by taking small steps, making one change at a time. For instance, you might
- take the salt shaker off your table. Decreasing your salt intake slowly will allow you to adjust.
- switch to whole-grain bread, seafood, or more vegetables and fruits when you shop.
These changes may be easier than you think. They're possible even if you need help with shopping or cooking, or if you have a limited budget.
Checking With Your Doctor
If you have a specific medical condition, be sure to check with your doctor or registered dietitian about foods you should include or avoid.
You Can Start Today
Whatever your age, you can start making positive lifestyle changes today. Eating well can help you stay healthy and independent -- and look and feel good -- in the years to come.
To read more about this topic, from this and related documents, please see "Eating Well as You Get Older" from NIH SeniorHealth.