The Ideal and Recommended Senior Nutrition Program
Good nutrition and a healthy diet are important for everyone, no matter how old you are. The food choices we make every day have a major impact not only on our health, but also in how we look and feel. Senior nutrition, for adults over 50, isn’t about dieting and sacrificing to lose a few pounds, it’s a lifestyle change that has many benefits. Remember the old saying “You are what you eat.” So, if you’re eating healthy foods, you’ll be healthier, makes sense right?
Better senior nutrition aids in increasing mental acuteness, sharpness and focus. Although memory loss and forgetfulness are usually associated with aging, there is something that you can do about it. The key to improved memory and decreased chance of Alzheimer’s and dementia is a simple shift to fresh foods that are high in nutrients and low in bad fats.
Most senior nutrition programs recommend eating lots of vegetables and fruits, especially leafy greens, tomatoes and berries, because they are rich in antioxidants that help repair and protect brain cells. In addition, eating more whole grains, cutting out trans fats and saturated fats and replacing them with low-fat, high protein foods like fish, chicken or other extra-lean cuts of meats or beans are also shown to enhance mental capacities of seniors.
Good senior nutrition programs also focus on increasing energy levels. Your body needs calories to function well enough to get through the day. The number of calories you need depends on your age, height and weight, whether you’re a man or a woman, as well as your activity level. Other factors may also come into play, for example, health issues that may be restricting or increasing the number of calories you need.
The basic rule of thumb to follow is that the amount you should eat every day depends on how active you are. It’s important not to eat more calories than your body uses, otherwise you will begin to gain weight. So what are calories? Calories are a unit of measurement that determines much energy is in the food you. Energy generated from the food helps your body accomplish all the things you need to do each day. It is always best to choose foods that are high in nutrients and lower in calories.
The National Institute for Aging (NIA) has set some basic guidelines that will help seniors determine what they need. According to NIA, women over 50 that are not very active need about 1,600 calories a day, a moderately active woman needs about 1,800 calories and a very active woman needs about 2,000 calories a day. Men over 50 that are inactive need around 2,000 calories, those that are only moderately active need about 2,300 calories and those that are very active can require up to 2,800 calories each day.
The key to determining your caloric needs is evaluating your actual physical activity during a normal day. If you are mostly sedentary and get around very little, the lower end of the spectrum would be best for you, conversely, if you are running marathons and working out, you’ll lean towards the higher calorie intake. If you are unsure about using this senior nutrition plan, talk to your doctor and get some advice about how many calories you should be taking in each day.
Now that you know why it’s so important to have a solid senior nutrition program, where do you start? What is the best senior nutrition plan? The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have put together two types of dietary plans that are a good place to start.
The first senior nutrition plan, dubbed the USDA Food Patterns, suggests that people over 50 should consume certain healthy foods every day. They recommend that seniors eat at least 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups of fresh fruits each day, 2 to 3 cups of vegetables, 5 to 10 ounces of grains, 5 to 7 ounces of protein (meats, fish, poultry, eggs, etc.) as well as 3 cups of low-fat or fat free milk or dairy products like yogurt. They also recommend staying away from solid fats and excessive sugars from chips, cookies, soda and alcohol, which are considered “empty calories”, but you do need 5 to 8 teaspoons of oil, which you can get from nuts, avocados and even olives. Keep in mind that the lowest suggested amount of each serving, added together would amount to a daily calorie intake of 1,600 calories, the highest equal about 2,800.
The second senior nutrition program is called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). This is a flexible and balanced eating plan that can help to lower blood pressure in seniors. This program focuses on foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol as well as fruits, vegetables and fat-free or low-fat dairy products, whole grains and lean proteins, much the same as the USDA Food Patterns plan. The recommended serving sizes and advice on reducing sugars, fats and empty calories found in the Food Patterns plan also pertain to DASH.
The major difference in these two senior nutrition plans is an emphasis within the DASH program on reducing sodium intake. It is recommended that individuals incorporate less than 2,000 milligrams of salt per day, and those with high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease as well as seniors limit their intake to no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Keeping your sodium intake low has the effect of lowering blood pressure, so it is vital to get this under control.
No matter which senior nutrition program you choose, you really shouldn’t just jump in and start adding and eliminating foods from your diet willy-nilly. Your doctor may want you to be on a very specific diet due to heart disease, diabetes or other health problems. Additionally you may have to avoid certain foods because they can have negative effects on your medications. Before you start any senior nutrition program, talk to your doctor, make sure your plan is healthy and sound for you.