Spring can serve as an ideal time to revitalize and re-examine health regimens. It also marks a new beginning that affords fresh, nutritious foods for us to enjoy that also can benefit our health. Our tips for spring nutrition for seniors will set you on the right path for your fresh start.
As a senior adult, your nutritional needs are changing, but you can make adjustments to your diet that will provide you with what you need.
If you are like most older adults, you are probably less active than when you were younger. As your metabolism slows, your energy requirements decrease, meaning you need to eat less.
Also, your ability to absorb and utilize many nutrients becomes less efficient as you age, which means that your nutrient intake requirements actually increase. So you need to make the most of what you do consume.
Ways to Eat and Be Well this Spring
Marie Gorski is the Regional Clinical Nutrition Manager for the food service provider Unidine in St. Louis. Marie and five other clinical dietitians bring their expertise to Bethesda senior living communities in long-term care, assisted living, and senior independent living settings.
Marie cites the example of protein when discussing the differences in senior diets. “People 65 and older require an increased intake of high-quality protein due to the fact that, as we age, our bodies are less efficient in utilizing amino acids, the building blocks of protein,” she says. Protein is particularly vital for senior’s nutrition as it maintains muscle that tends to diminish in mass and strength as we age. She recommends that exercise, combined with adequate protein intake, can slow this process.
According to Marie, older adults should aim to consume at least 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. To determine your weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. Therefore, the average individual should try to consume approximately 15-25 grams of protein at each meal.
As spring arrives and provides more opportunity for physical activities, adequate protein consumption becomes more important.
Johns Hopkins Medicine provides a chart of the protein content of common foods.
Nutritional Spring Foods
Spring brings fresh produce to grocery stores and farmer’s markets. Freshness adds to nutritive content and provides local producers with markets for their product.
“Seasonal foods represent foods that naturally grow during different times of the year and in different parts of the world,” Marie says.
Seasonal foods could include:
- Green beans
Here are the nutritional benefits of some of these foods:
- Asparagus is a good source of vitamin K and folate.
- Artichokes are filled with potassium, fiber, and iron.
- Cabbage has high levels of vitamin C, folic acid, calcium, potassium, and fiber.
- Peas have lots of protein, B vitamins, and vitamins C and A, manganese, iron, and potassium.
- Shallots are a great source of potassium, vitamin B6, manganese and folic acid.
- Eggplant is high in fiber, potassium, manganese and vitamin B1.
- Strawberries are a good source of vitamin C, manganese, folate, and potassium.
- Peppers contain Beta-carotene, vitamins B6, C, and A, and potassium.
- Carrots are rich in Beta-carotene, vitamins A and K, and potassium.
A seasonal food guide lists what produce is in season across the U.S.
What’s a Balanced Diet?
There is lot of information out there about what is a healthy diet. Marie breaks it down into consuming adequate servings from three classes of nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. And she recommends the MyPlate method from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make it easier to determine if your diet is balanced.
MyPlate uses the image of a dinner plate to represent a balanced diet. The idea is to make ½ of the plate fruit and/or non-starchy vegetables, ¼ of the plate protein, ¼ of the plate starch, plus a serving of milk (dairy- or plant-based).
The site also includes MyPlate plans specific to seniors.
Consult with your physician or a registered dietitian before making a significant change to your diet, especially if you have a chronic illness, such as diabetes, that may require more specific dietary requirements.
Another highly recommended diet is the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH), which was developed to help control blood pressure in people with hypertension.
“This diet focuses on increased intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, with less intake of fat, animal protein and sodium,” Marie says. “It is considered a generally healthy diet for all people regardless of their heart health history.”
“Variety is key when eating a healthy diet,” she says. “Focus on foods high in antioxidants such as fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains to help reduce excess inflammation and promote healthy cellular production. And make sure to include some sort of exercise into your daily routine to help maintain muscle mass.”
Drink Enough Fluids
According to Marie, the top mistake seniors make when it comes to their diet is not drinking enough water. “As we age, our body’s natural cues to hydrate diminish,” she says. “Also, I often see my patients consuming less water so that they won’t have to use the restroom as frequently.”
Marie notes that a decreased intake of fluids puts seniors at an increased risk for low blood pressure and urinary tract infections. As the weather warms this spring and summer, the need for adequate hydration becomes even more important.
“In people with certain medical conditions, limiting fluid intake is important. However, older adults who are generally healthy should consume at least 8 to 10 8-oz. servings of liquid daily—preferably water,” Marie says.
Unfortunately, many people associate the word “diet” with a painful but temporary suspension of all foods delicious and satisfying. That’s not the case.
Instead, use the beginning of spring to make smart choices and enjoy the foods you choose to eat in a new, healthier lifestyle.
Keeping a nutritional diet is important for senior health. For more tips on keeping a nutritional diet, read our blog.