A healthy diet is important for everyone, but the senior population often overlooks this key to wellness. As we age, we may not need as much food. However, we do need good nutrition.
Seniors can lose interest in cooking and food preparation when they transition from cooking for a family to cooking for a couple or a single serving. There’s also less interest in eating when alone. Many replace balanced meals with snacking on junk food in front of the TV. Budget becomes a troubling factor, as well, when managing groceries on a fixed income.
The recommendation is to keep caloric content low but steady throughout the day. Smaller healthy meals and snacks are better for all of us, and especially as we age, than that starving and binging we tend to do in younger years.
Healthy diets mean eating predominately plant-based foods. We want to choose foods that are high in fiber and low in sodium. It’s beneficial to take the time to read labels, observe recommended serving sizes, and drink plenty of water.
The Mediterranean, Dash, and Flexitarian diets are the top recommended ones for most of us. The MIND diet also is important for improved memory. Researchers believe it can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Here is what these diets consist of:
- Primarily fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts
- Replacing butter with olive oil and canola oil
- Season foods with herbs and spices instead of salt
- Red meat no more than a few times a month
- Fish and poultry at least twice a week
- Red wine in moderation
- 6-8 servings of whole grain a day
- 4-5 servings of vegetables per day
- 4-5 servings of fruit per day
- 2-3 servings a day of dairy
- No more than 6 servings of fish or poultry a week
- 4-5 servings a week of nuts, seeds, and legumes
- 2-3 servings a day of fats and oils
- Less than 5 servings a week of sweets
- No more than 1 alcoholic drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men
The Flexitarian Diet is a flexible vegetarian diet that allows periodic meats. Flexitarians tend to weigh about 15% less than meat eaters and have a lower rate of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. They also live an average of three and a half years longer.
- 6 or more servings per week of green leafy vegetables
- At least one serving of other vegetables each day
- 5 servings of nuts per week
- 2 or more servings of berries each week
- 1 or more servings of beans each week
- 3 or more servings a day of whole grains
- 1 or more servings of fish each week
- 2 servings of poultry each week
- Olive oil to be used as your main cooking oil
- 1 glass of wine each day
- No more than 4 servings of red meat each week
- 1 tablespoon or less of butter or margarine per day
- 1 serving or less of cheese each week
- 5 servings or less of sweets per week
- No more than 1 serving of fried or fast food per week
Those serving sizes seem generous, but they’re smaller than most of us realize. Here’s a guideline to keep in mind:
- 1 serving of grain equals 1 slice of bread, 1 ounce of dry cereal, or ½ cup of cooked whole wheat pasta, rice, or oatmeal.
- 1 serving of vegetables equals ½ cup of cooked or raw vegetables, 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables, or ½ cup of vegetable juice.)
- 1 serving of fruit is a medium apple or orange, ½ cup juice or frozen, fresh, or canned fruit, or ¼ cup of dried fruit)
- 1 serving of dairy equals 1 cup of yogurt or milk or 1 1/2 ounces of cheese
- 1 serving of fish or poultry is about 1 ounce
- 1 serving of nuts equals 1/3 cup
- 1 serving of seeds equal 2 tablespoons
- 1 serving of legumes equals ½ cup, cooked
- 1 serving of sweets equal 1 tablespoon sugar, jelly or jam, ½ cup sorbet, or 1 cup of lemonade
- 1 serving of fat equals 1 teaspoon of margarine, 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise, or 2 tablespoons of salad dressing
If you are a senior in need of healthy meals, contact your local government for programs that may bring meals to your home or subsidize income. Your church may also assist those in need with a healthy meal prepared by fellow parishioners.