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Eating Well As We Age

From the U.S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA)

Good nutrition is one of the best ways to stay healthy. Eating a well-planned, balanced mix of healthy foods every day may help prevent heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, some kinds of cancer, and anemia. If you already have one or more of these chronic diseases, eating well may help you better manage them.

Choose Nutrient-Dense Foods

Nutrient-dense foods are foods that are high in nutrients but low in calories.

Plan your meals and snacks to include:

  • plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • plenty of grains, especially whole grains
  • low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products
  • lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts
  • limited amounts of fats (saturated and trans fats should be as low as possible), cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars
Know How Much To Eat

Eating a mix of healthy foods every day provides the nutrients, fiber, and calories your body needs. The amount you should eat depends on your age and whether you are a man or woman. It also depends on your level of physical activity. The more physically active you are, the more calories you might be able to eat without gaining weight. Most people in the United States eat more calories than they need.

A woman over age 50 should consume about:

  • 1,600 calories a day if her level of physical activity is low
  • 1,800 calories daily if she is moderately active
  • 2,000 to 2,200 calories daily if she has an active lifestyle

A man over age 50 should consume about:

  • 2,000 calories a day if his level of physical activity is low
  • 2,200 to 2,400 calories daily if he is moderately active
  • 2,400 to 2,800 calories daily if he has an active lifestyle
Limit Some Foods

Choosing foods and beverages that give you the most nutrients for the calories consumed is one way to eat well. At the same time, it's important to avoid "empty calories" -- foods and drinks that are high in calories but low in nutrients. Limit your intake of:

  • saturated fats and trans fats
  • cholesterol
  • sodium
  • added sugars
Enjoy Your Meals

Eating is one of life's pleasures, but some people lose interest in eating and cooking as they get older. They may find that food no longer tastes good. They may find it harder to shop for food or cook, or they don't enjoy meals because they often eat alone. Others may have problems chewing or digesting the food they eat.

One reason people lose interest in eating is that their senses of taste and smell change with age. Foods you once enjoyed might seem to have less flavor when you get older. You can enhance the flavor of food by cooking meals in new ways or adding different herbs and spices.

Some medicines can change your sense of taste or make you feel less hungry. Talk with your doctor if you have no appetite, or if you find that food tastes bad or has no flavor.

If you don't feel like eating because of problems with chewing, digestion, or gas, talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian. Avoiding some foods could mean you miss out on needed vitamins, minerals, fiber, or protein. Not eating enough could mean that you don't consume enough nutrients and calories.

If you have trouble chewing, you might have a problem with your teeth or gums. If you wear dentures, not being able to chew well could also mean that your dentures need to be adjusted. Talk to your doctor or dentist if you're finding it hard to chew food.

Chewing problems can sometimes be resolved by eating softer foods. For instance, you could replace raw vegetables and fresh fruits with cooked vegetables or juices. Also choose foods like applesauce and canned peaches or other fruits.

Meat can also be hard to chew. Instead, try eating ground or shredded meat, eggs, or milk products like fat-free or low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt. You could also replace meat with soft foods like cooked, dry beans, eggs, tofu, tuna fish, etc.

If you experience a lot of digestive problems, such as gas or bloating, try to avoid foods that cause gas or other digestive problems. If you have stomach problems that don't go away, talk with your doctor. If you do not have an appetite or seem to be losing weight without trying, talk to your doctor or ask to see a dietitian.

Eating with others is another way to enjoy meals more. For instance, you could share meals with neighbors at home or dine out with friends or family members. You could also join or start a breakfast, lunch, or dinner club.

Many senior centers and places of worship host group meals. You might also arrange to have meals brought to your home.

Meals are an important part of our lives. They give us nourishment and a chance to spend time with friends, family members, and others. If physical problems keep you from eating well or enjoying meals, talk with a health care professional. If you need help shopping or preparing meals or want to find ways to share meals with others, look for services in your community. Your Area Agency on Aging can tell you about these services. To contact your Area Agency on Aging, call the Eldercare Locator toll-free at 1-800-677-1116.

Last updated April 2, 2010