Eating the right food is important throughout life, but maintaining a healthy diet becomes particularly critical as you age. Your dietary needs change as you get older, and you’ll likely need to ensure that you’re getting more nutrients but fewer calories. Maintaining a healthy diet can keep you mentally and physically fit years into retirement.
How Do Your Dietary Needs Change as You Age?
It’s important to remember that your dietary needs are not set in stone. What counted as a healthy meal for you 20 years ago may not cut it once you’re in your 60s or 70s.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, getting the right diet can be a little tricky for seniors. This is because older adults typically need to cut back on how many calories they are consuming each day, but also increase the amount of nutrients they are getting from their food.
On top of this, other external factors can affect your diet as well, especially when you’re older. There are numerous medical conditions and medications that may impact how much you should be eating or what your diet should be made up of.
This can be a big change for a lot of seniors. It’s difficult to start dramatically altering your diet, especially if you’ve eaten a certain way for most of your life.
But changes to your body as you age make altering your diet a necessity in order to promote healthy aging.
What Does a Well-Balanced Diet Consist Of?
There are several different food groups that go into constructing a healthy and well-balanced diet for seniors.
- Lean meats
- Whole grains
- Fruits and vegetables
- Low-fat milk
According to the National Library of Medicine, there are a few key areas that seniors should focus on to get their protein, such as lean meats. This is basically meat that doesn’t include a high amount of fat, such as poultry.
Eggs and seafood are also be a healthy source of protein. All of these offer the nutrients you need without as much fat content, achieving the goal of more nutrition and fewer empty calories.
Whole grains such as brown rice are also preferable for a senior diet over nutrient-poor foods such as white bread. Beans and nuts can provide nutrition that you need as well.
And, of course, your diet should be plentiful with both fruits and vegetables. They’re a healthy source of nutrition that aren’t packed with a lot of calories.
Remember that any one of these food groups alone does not make up a healthy diet for older adults. Combining them and eating a mix of everything can ensure that you’re consuming all of the nutrients that you need as you age.
Protein: Protein sources without a lot of fat make the most sense for seniors. Lean meats, chicken, eggs and seafood are all healthy sources of protein.
Whole Grains: Whole grains are a critical part of a senior’s diet. Brown rice, wheat bread and oatmeal are all solid options.
Fruits and Vegetables: People of all ages should eat fruits and vegetables as a key part of any diet, and seniors are no exception. Be sure to get a good variety of fruits and vegetables each day.
How Can You Maintain a Healthy Diet?
One of the most important parts of maintaining a healthy diet is to get into a routine of eating the right foods. Eating well every day and sticking to your diet make all the difference.
It can be difficult to get the nutrients and healthy food that you need if you are struggling to keep your diet going or only following it some days. Getting into a routine and following your diet every day will get much easier over time.
Another huge part of maintaining your diet is to avoid junk food and processed food. These may have been a part of your regular diet for a long time, but they become even more troublesome as you age.
Foods that are high in calories and virtually devoid of nutrition are about the worst thing for a senior to be eating. This doesn’t mean that you must cut junk food out of your life entirely or never have an unhealthy meal again.
But heavily scaling back and limiting how much of these foods you eat can make a big difference in your overall health.
According to the National Council on Aging, one of the keys to maintaining a healthy diet is to avoid foods that are high in salt while opting for choices that have a lot of fiber. Even following this can eliminate most junk foods from your daily diet.
What Types of Diets Exist?
There are plenty of different diets out there for you to consider if you are looking to lose weight or to improve your health. While there are numerous popular and trendy options, not all of them make sense for seniors and may even directly go against the type of nutrition that you need when you are older.
The keto diet, which has grown in popularity in recent years, is essentially a high-fat diet. But it revolves around eating foods that are “healthy” fats, such as some meats and avocado. The diet is also almost entirely devoid of carbs.
The goal is to force the body to enter a state of ketosis, which makes it burn fat and can lead to quick and dramatic weight loss. It also essentially entirely cuts out the junk food and empty calories that can be so detrimental to seniors.
But it also is very restrictive and doesn’t account for many nutrient-rich types of food that older adults often need. If you are considering trying out the keto diet, you should first speak with your doctor about whether or not it is a good idea for you.
The paleo diet — which is short for paleolithic — is based on an unusual concept. The idea behind the diet is that processed foods, modern cuisines and essentially the entire modern food industry is not natural and is thus the root cause for many conditions and ailments that people face.
The paleo diet offers a solution: eating only the types of foods that were available to humans thousands of years ago. This limits you to anything that could have been hunted or gathered, so you essentially will only eat meats and fish with basic fruits and vegetables.
While it is trendy at the moment, this diet has the potential to be a very bad idea for seniors. According to research conducted at UC Davis, part of following the paleo diet includes almost entirely avoiding grains, which is a major source of nutrition for older adults.
Following the diet can also potentially lead to calcium and vitamin D deficiencies, both of which affect bone health. Loss of bone density is already a major issue for seniors and any diet that may further weaken them can be a problem. It could make you particularly susceptible to serious injury if you suffer a fall.
The emphasis on eating meat in the paleo diet could also possibly lead to cholesterol issues for seniors.
A vegan diet goes beyond just cutting back on meat or even eliminating meat entirely. Vegans do not consume any kind of animal products or foods that stem from animals. This includes things such as eggs and dairy products.
While the diet may work for some, it can present some real problems for seniors. According to the Harvard Medical School, a vegan diet creates several health risks for seniors.
First off, it can lead to shortages in both protein and calcium. These play vital roles in bone development and health, making them particularly critical for seniors to be getting enough of.
A vegan diet also virtually eliminates your intake of vitamin B12, which comes from eating meat. This vitamin helps with everything from creating DNA and red blood cells. But perhaps most critically to seniors, it helps develop and maintain your thinking skills.
It may not make sense for seniors to have a vegan diet. Even older adults who have been vegans for much of their lives may need to consider opening up their diet to remain healthy later in life.
Vegetarians do not eat meat, poultry, or fish, but typically still do eat other animal products including eggs and dairy. Pescatarians even include fish in their diets.
While meat is typically included in a health senior diet, there are some potential advantages to being a vegetarian. According to the University of Florida, plant-based diets can lower your risk of chronic disease.
There are also more opportunities to get the nutrients that you need if you are vegetarian than in a vegan diet, where you are pretty severely limited on what you can consume.
You should still check with your doctor, however, before committing to a vegetarian diet in retirement to ensure you have a plan to get the nutrition that you need.
Is a Diet Program Right for You?
Whether or not a diet program is right for you will depend on your specific situations. Some people need more help dieting than others and some are starting from healthier points.
If you are already in fairly good health and at a good weight then you probably don’t need assistance dieting. The same is true if you already eat well or incorporate many of the foods recommended for a senior diet.
A diet program may make sense if you are looking for temporary help. For example, if you are only slightly overweight or underweight and want to get to where you need to be then a short-term diet can help.
If you generally eat unhealthily or your weight is not close to where it should be, then you may need the help of a diet program. You may be able to consult with a doctor or dietician to craft a plan that is catered specifically to your needs.
There are also numerous dieting apps and groups that you can join that can help you track your nutrition and calories, such as Weight Watchers.
8 Cited Research Articles
- UC Davis. (2022, April 27). Paleo diet: what it is and why it’s not for everyone. Retrieved from https://health.ucdavis.edu/blog/good-food/paleo-diet-what-it-is-and-why-its-not-for-everyone/2022/04
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, July 20). Nutrition as We Age: Healthy Eating with the Dietary Guidelines. Retrieved from https://health.gov/news/202107/nutrition-we-age-healthy-eating-dietary-guidelines
- National Council on Aging. (2021, February 23). Healthy Eating Tips for Seniors. Retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/article/healthy-eating-tips-for-seniors
- Harvard Medical School. (2019, December 1). Is it safe to go vegan in older age? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/is-it-safe-to-go-vegan-in-older-age
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019, May 30). Nutrition for Older Adults. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/nutritionforolderadults.html
- SilverSneakers. (2019, May 15). The Keto Diet: Is it Right for You? Retrieved from https://www.silversneakers.com/blog/keto-diet-what-older-adults-should-know/
- University of Florida. (2019, January 9). Vegetarianism and the Older Adult. Retrieved from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FS317
- National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Impact of aging on eating behaviors, food choices, nutrition, and health status. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11426286/