It can sometimes feel like a big shift to adjust how you eat after decades of forming certain food habits — perhaps a favorite lunch spot around the corner from the office or cooking a big meal for the whole family, the comfort foods can help get you through life’s tough moments. But seniors have different nutritional needs, therefore understanding nutrition and aging and how to increase wellness is key to making this phase of life as enjoyable and long-lasting as those that came before.
Emphasizing plant-based foods, including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, cereals, nuts, seeds, and beans, is one simple way to keep one’s eating habits on the right track. A heart-healthy diet, as recommended by the American Heart Association, limits saturated and trans fats, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages. Those are good guidelines, too, for those with conditions like diabetes or obesity, is to avoid starchy vegetables and carbohydrates, and instead focus on increasing lean protein intake and plenty of fibrous vegetables and fruits.
Portion control is also an important consideration for seniors. One study shows that “the average daily intake of food decreases by up to 30% between 20 and 80 years.” If you’re appetite has declined, it’s most important than ever to make sure that what you do eat is as nutritious as possible. The USDA recommends making half your plate fruits and vegetables, and then fill in the other half of the plate with whole grains and lean protein.
Many health experts point to the Mediterranean diet as a great example of what healthy, well-rounding eating looks like, for people of any age. The majority of fat comes from olive oil, the protein sources tend to be from legumes like fava beans, fresh seafood sources like anchovies and other fish, or white meat like chicken and lean pork. The majority of other nutrients come from the garden in the form of tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and leafy greens. Pasta, what we Americans often think of as the backbone of Mediterranean cuisine, is limited to feast days, treats, and small portions.
Of course, that’s just one way to adhere to healthy eating guidelines. If you scoff at olives or get heartburn from acidic tomatoes and vinegar, there are plenty of other cuisines out there that accomplish the same effect with slightly different ingredients. Much of healthy eating is all about listening to your body, and working with your unique tastes, medication regimen, and activity level to find a way of eating that works for you.
Like anyone else, seniors who are isolated or depressed might cope by not eating enough, or by eating too much of the wrong foods. Making mealtimes sociable and pleasurable is a great way to make food good for body and spirit. After all, some of our very oldest human traditions involve breaking bread together, and food-related rituals are found in nearly every world religion. It’s important to dine well, and dine together. As British chef, Jamie Oliver put it, “If you can eat with mates or friends or family, I mean, it’s such a brilliant thing isn’t it? If you feel really rubbish and you have a nice bit of food it makes you feel good, you know?”
At Regency, we love working with residents to encourage healthy eating. Our chefs take pride in preparing nutritious, delicious meals that give residents an opportunity to come together and treat themselves well. Come dine with us to see what the Regency experiences is all about!
Written by: Meghan O’Dea