Eating right at every age

Special dietary needs for seniors

By Julie Estlick

As our bodies grow into middle age and older, our daily eating habits change. The need for certain nutrients increases and there is a shift in the amount of foods that are recommended from different food groups. Making small adjustments to maintain a healthy weight and diet as we age is not only important to keep up energy levels and mental focus, but also to reduce the risk for broken bones, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, among other chronic health issues.

The USDA gives daily dietary guidelines for Americans age 50 and older: vegetables, 2-3 cups; fruits, 1.5-2 cups; whole grains, 5-8 ounces; dairy, 3 cups (low-fat or fat-free); protein, 5-6.5 ounces; and oils, 5-7 teaspoons.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics makes several recommendations of the best sources for meeting these daily requirements for a healthy, balanced diet. First, older adults need three servings of calcium-rich foods and beverages to get enough calcium and vitamin D for strong bone mass. Options include fortified cereal; dark green, leafy vegetables; canned fish; milk; yogurt; hard cheese; or fortified plant-based drinks.

Next, take a look at your vitamin B12 intake. People older than 50 often don’t get enough of this essential nutrient, which keeps the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy, helps maintain a healthy digestive system, and protects against heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Find this heavy hitter in protein like lean meats, some fish and seafood including cooked salmon, wild rainbow trout, and canned sardines, as well as in fortified cereal.

Getting enough fiber in our diet is another important factor as we age. Consuming fiber-rich foods helps lower the risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Dietary fiber is the portion of plant-based foods that the body can’t digest or absorb, which helps move material through the digestive tract. Choose whole-grain breads and cereals, and eat more beans and peas in addition to your daily intake of fruits and veggies. If slicing or chopping is a challenge, look for pre-sliced fruits and vegetables on sale to add to meals and snacks.

For healthy meal and snack ideas for every age, go to choosemyplate.gov.