A well-balanced and easy diet for seniors isn't as hard as you might think! Keep it simple, add variety, and try to eat more whole foods, like this senior couple is demonstrating.

A Well-Balanced and Easy Diet for Seniors Aging in Place

Bethesda Health | September 13, 2018

Was healthy eating always this complicated? Today, seniors, as well as the general public, can choose from diet drinks, supplements, and snacks. Diet plans include so many options that it can get confusing — from South Beach, Zone, Paleo, DASH to Mediterranean, and even an apple cider vinegar diet exists!

Lindsay Johnson, a Registered Dietitian and Clinical Dietitian at Barnes-Jewish Extended Care in Clayton, can help simplify things a bit.

One of Lindsay’s preferred programs is the visual approach offered by the MyPlate site. In addition to a wealth of nutrition information, the site features an image of the five basic food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy), shown in healthy portions on a dinner plate to provide a practical sense of what your body needs.

The keys to a healthy and easy diet for seniors, according to Lindsay, are variety and balance. “You can overeat carrots and gain weight,” she says. “It is also possible to eat Oreos and lose weight, though you will be missing out on fiber and key antioxidants that may help fight off a variety of diseases.” 

What’s Considered Healthy?

According to Lindsay, a colorful mix of foods in proper plate portions is an easy and effective approach to eating healthy.

“Anything you enjoy in your diet can be a healthy addition,” she says. “It depends upon how you are adding it into your diet plan. If you have a full plate of Caesar salad, be aware that you are consuming the same number of calories found in two cheeseburgers.”

The reasons that you eat is also an important consideration because eating is not always a response to physical hunger. Lindsay uses the acronym “LATE” to raise awareness when emotions are driving appetite:

“If you are eating a well-balanced diet in the correct portions and you are still hungry, it’s probably emotional hunger,” Lindsay says.

Guidelines for an Easy Diet for Seniors

Nutrition labels on food products provide important information, including portion size (probably smaller than one would expect), calories and sugar content.

She advises getting at least some of your food from the dairy, produce, and meat sections of the grocery store – in other words, whole foods. “Processed foods feature increased amounts of salt, fat, sugar and chemicals, to make them as addictive as possible,” she says.

Seniors need more of certain vitamins and minerals, including a calcium supplement for bone health. Many would benefit from a chewable vitamin with Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.

Women would also do well with a serving of yogurt each day and a cup of milk in the morning. Following a healthy diet like this, can also help prevent osteoporosis.

Specific diet restrictions may apply due to chronic conditions. Consult with your physician for information about the foods you should be eating.

Healthy-Eating Restaurant Tips

Larger restaurant chains have started to list calorie counts for food items on their menus. Lindsay advises not trusting these numbers or following them too closely. Some of the food items may have been carefully evaluated by a nutrition expert, and some may not.

Whether or not buffets are an optimum choice depends upon the individual. “If you can pick and choose good, whole foods, keeping in mind your MyPlate portions and food varieties, buffets can be better than menu items,” Lindsay says. “However, if limiting yourself at the buffet is a problem then you would probably be better picking a meal off the menu.”

How Exercise Factors In

Although weight is largely determined by the calories we consume, exercise can have an effect. Lindsay notes that a pound of muscle at rest burns 30 percent more calories than a pound of fat at rest, and exercise can raise your body’s metabolic rate (the rate at which you burn calories) even after your exercise session is over.

She recommends a combination of cardio and strength training. For seniors, 30 minutes of walking each day above and beyond their normal routine is a good place to start. “The key is to keep moving, whether it is walking, swimming, biking or gardening,” Lindsay says.

Key Takeaways for Seniors:

  1. Move your body daily in a way you enjoy.
  2. Eat a colorful balanced plate with a vegetable at lunch and dinner.
  3. Make sure emotions (LATE) are not driving your eating habits.

Continue reading for more Senior Health and Wellness articles from Bethesda.

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