The definition of healthy eating changes as you age. For example, as you grow older, your metabolism slows down, so you need fewer calories than before. Your body also needs more of certain nutrients. That means it’s more important than ever to choose foods that give you the best nutritional value.
Here are several tips to help you find the best foods for your body and your budget.
Understand what a healthy plate looks like
You might remember the food pyramid, but the USDA recently unveiled a simpler way to help people see what they should eat each day. It’s called MyPlate. The simple graphic shows exactly how the five food groups should stack up on your plate. These are the building blocks for a healthy diet.
Look for important nutrients
Make sure you eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need. Your plate should look like a rainbow – bright, colored foods are always the best choice! A healthy meal should include:
- Lean protein (lean meats, seafood, eggs, beans)
- Fruits and vegetables (think orange, red, green, and purple)
- Whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat pasta)
- Low-fat dairy (milk and its alternatives)
Remember to choose foods that are high in fiber and low in sodium or salt. Also, look for Vitamin D, an important mineral as we age.
Read the Nutrition Facts label
The healthiest foods are whole foods. These are often found on the perimeter of the grocery store in the produce, meat, and dairy sections. When you do eat packaged foods, be a smart shopper! Read the labels to find items that are lower in fat, added sugars, and sodium.
Water is an important nutrient too! Don’t let yourself get dehydrated—drink small amounts of fluids consistently throughout the day. Tea, coffee, and water are your best choices. Keep fluids with sugar and salt at a minimum, unless your doctor has suggested otherwise.
Recent long-term research studies have pointed to a number of essential nutrients that many seniors lack, but that are especially valuable for those who have a risk or history of heart disease, stroke or Alzheimer’s disease. Here are three “super foods” that are loaded with these essential nutrients.
- Salmon And Other Fatty Fish
Salmon and other cold water fish, such as tuna, sardines and mackerel, are low in calories and saturated fat, yet high in protein. Most important, these fish are rich in a unique type of health promoting fat, omega-3. Omega-3 essential fatty acid (DHA) optimizes levels of triglycerides which carry fat in your bloodstream, reducing the low density LDL (bad) cholesterol, while improving the high HDL (good) cholesterol that fights deposits in the arteries. There is strong evidence linking low levels of DHA to memory loss and other symptoms of dementia.
- Walnuts, Almonds And Other Nuts
Considerable scientific evidence suggests that eating one ounce per day of certain nuts, most notably walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, and peanuts, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Although nuts are a higher-fat food, they are cholesterol-free. One handful of walnuts a day is all that is needed to meet the daily omega-3 dietary recommendation by the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine and also provides 35 percent of the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for vitamin E. One study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests vitamin E may help protect people against Alzheimer’s disease.
Many studies have shown that people who consumed higher levels of vitamin A and other anti-oxidants over several years had substantially decreased levels of Alzheimer’s disease. This was even more pronounced among smokers. Another study links diets rich in four antioxidants—beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc—to lower odds of losing eyesight proficiency during to old age. Nothing beats a carrot as a powerful source of beta-carotene (which your body converts to vitamin A).
Many studies have shown that people who consumed higher levels of vitamin A and other anti-oxidants over several years had substantially decreased levels of Alzheimer’s disease.
One 7-1/2″ long carrot delivers 203% of the daily RDA for vitamin A. Broccoli and other vegetables are also high in vitamin A, but you would have to eat almost nine broccoli spears to equal the vitamin A in one carrot. Don’t over do it, though. More than three carrots a day will saturate the body’s ability to store vitamin A over a short time and can show up as an orange tint on the skin. Because many elderly may have difficulty chewing, it’s recommended to microwave or lightly steam vegetables to soften them while minimizing the loss of nutrients.
There are ten brain-healthy foods you should try to eat:
- Green leafy vegetables – aim for six servings a week. These include spinach, kale, collards, Swiss chard, mustard greens, turnip greens, dandelion greens, arugula, endive, grape leaves, and romaine lettuce.
- Other vegetables – aim for at least one serving a day. These include green or red peppers, squash, carrots, broccoli, celery, potatoes, peas or lima beans, tomatoes or tomato sauce, beans, beets, corn, zucchini, summer squash, zucchini, eggplant, coleslaw, or potato salad.
- Nuts – aim for five servings a week. Try peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, or nut butter.
- Berries – aim for two servings a week. Try blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries. Frozen berries work, too, when berries are out of season.
- Beans – have beans during at least three meals a week. Try black, pinto, cannellini, garbanzo, kidney, and lima beans, lentils, edamame, tofu, hummus, or soybeans.
- Whole grains – aim for three servings a day. You want dark or whole grain bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta, wild rice, quinoa, barley, bulgur, oats, or whole grain cereal.
- Fish – eat at least once a week.
- Poultry – have for two meals a week.
- Olive oil – have this be your primary oil.
- Wine – have one glass a day