With the holidays well underway, it’s easy to get swept up in the fun festivities and overindulge a bit on too many sweets and comfort foods. Pair this with the fact that the New Year is just on the horizon—meaning you might be already thinking about how you’ll make better meal choices come January.
But rather than wait for the New Year to arrive, why not start incorporating healthier meal options into your diet now?
Think this means you’ll miss out on your favorite holiday dishes? Never! It just means you’ll need to pay attention to what’s on your plate to ensure you’re filling up on essential nutrients vs. empty calories.
Guide to Senior Nutrition
Below, we break down a few key nutrients our bodies tend to need more of as we age. As with any lifestyle change, be sure to consult with your clinician before trying a new diet plan.
We’re starting this list off with one of the most essential nutrients for any age group: fiber. Dietary fiber is commonly found in fruits, veggies, nuts, beans and whole grains.
Fiber is found to help with constipation and may reduce your risk of heart disease, type II diabetes, and high cholesterol. Fiber may also help you control blood sugar: “In people with diabetes, fiber — particularly soluble fiber — can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels,” (Mayo Clinic). That’s why it’s also recommended that you consume whole fruits vs. fruit concentrates, as fruit juices typically contain higher amounts of added sugar.
Why Is Increased Fiber Important in Older Adults?
As we get older, our appetites can change due to hormonal imbalances or changes in our environment. Some seniors might even skip meals, altogether, like breakfast, which means you’re missing out on the essential fiber your body needs.
“Physiological changes that come with aging can result in reduced calorie needs, which can lead to decreased food intake and altered body composition, even in healthy older adults…[d]epression, lack of independence, and social isolation can make food less appealing, further contributing to a less than ideal intake,” (Harvard Health Publishing).
According to the Institute of Medicine, adult men over the age of 50 should consume at least 30 grams of fiber each day. They also recommend that women of the same age group should try for 21 grams per day.
Our bodies need this essential B vitamin to support nerve tissue, brain function, and red cell production (Medical News Today). Vitamin B-12 naturally occurs in certain meats like beef and chicken breast; fish like tuna and salmon; and dairy products like cheese, yogurt, and milk.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it’s recommended that Americans over the age of 14 consume 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B-12 a day.
Calcium & Vitamin D
Our bodies do not produce calcium on their own, which is why getting this nutrient regularly is important for our health as we age. However, in order to absorb it and enjoy its full benefits (i.e., stronger bones and teeth), we need to ensure we’re getting enough vitamin D, as well.
You probably guessed that dairy products, such as yogurt and milk, are great sources for calcium, and you’re right about that. But dark leafy veggies, like broccoli, do, too! You can also try tofu and fish with bones to support your daily calcium intake.
The NIH recommends that Americans over the age of 19 should consume 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day (with women and people in their 70s requiring around 1,200 mg).
We all know that sunlight provides our body with vitamin D, but when it comes to food choices, you’ll want to stick with salmon, red meats, and fortified foods.
The NIH recommends that adults between the ages of 19-70 should try to consume 15 mcg of vitamin D per day (with people over the age of 70 requiring 20 mcg).
Foods to Avoid or Keep in Moderation
As you get read to spend time with loved ones this holiday season, be sure to avoid, or moderate, how much you eat of the following items:
- Added Sugars: soda products, honey, maple syrup, concentrated juices, packaged foods, etc.
- Artificial Sweeteners: diet soda products, baked goods, sugar-free candy, etc.
- High Sodium: salted nuts, frozen pizzas, ham, bacon, sardines, etc.
- Empty Calories: french fries, burgers, alcohol, etc.
Want More Senior Lifestyle Tips?
Stay connected to our blog for more senior nutrition and lifestyle tips. Remember to keep these key nutrients in mind this holiday season as you fill your plate with your favorite traditional dishes.