Keys to a Healthy Senior Diet

by Denise M. Clark

Sure, you've eaten right all your life, tried to avoid fast food and ate a healthy assortment of veggies and fruits. So what do you need to know now that you didn't know twenty years ago?

For starters, many seniors continue to eat the way they have their entire life. If you're lucky, you ate well, but let's face it; some of the stuff we like isn't all that good for us, especially as we start to age. Why? Because the body undergoes a rapid number of changes as we age. We all know that metabolism slows down, but did you know that the body needs more of the nutrients and vitamins and minerals that we needed in the past on a daily basis?

Even though the metabolism slows down, the body's requirement for vital nutrients stays the same, or in some cases, increases. Because of the metabolism meltdown, many seniors also decrease the amount of food they eat, which also decreases the number of nutrients that the body needs for normal functions as well.

An increased intake of calcium and fiber is essential to help prevent broken bones, osteoporosis and support a healthy body weight. You don't have to drink gallons of milk to get your calcium, but can get it through fat-free or low-fat selections like yogurt, cheese and salmon. Fiber lowers the risk of heart disease and colon cancer, as well as helps to maintain regular digestive health. For healthy fiber, choose whole-wheat breads and grains as well as pastas.

Carbohydrates are necessary, but try to avoid the white stuff: when it comes to rice, breads and pastas, choose wheat or multi-grain selections. They're heart-healthy and less fattening. When it comes to salt, try not to consume more than a teaspoon every day. Remember the old adage: water follows salt. Leave the saltshaker on the counter and switch to salt substitutes. Your arteries will appreciate that. As far as sweets go, limit your intake of those to keep extra pounds from creeping up.

Most people don't think about their weight when they're physically active, but it certainly comes to their attention after they've grown older and the knees and ankles protest the extra weight with a vehemence that may surprise you. Overweight seniors are often surprised to discover that even the simplest chores or movements are much more difficult than they used to be. Go easy on your knees and ankles and do your heart a favor by maintaining a healthy diet before it's too late.

Reading food labels suddenly becomes much more important as we age. We're more likely to eye the fat grams and sodium content of various canned foods and packages as we age. It can't be stressed enough. Maintaining a healthy weight can make all the difference between an active, enjoyable senior lifestyle and one that is disappointing and depressing.

Watch portion sizes. Many of us overeat once in a while, but for seniors, overeating can lead to intestinal distress, weight gain and may even cause a disruption in the absorption of certain medications. If you're not sure if you're eating the right amount of foods, talk to your doctor. He or she will be able to offer you materials that will help you determine the right amount of foods you should be eating according to your height and activity level.

Eating healthy doesn't have to mean boring or bland. One of the most important keys to a healthy senior diet is to always choose a variety and make eating the right kinds of foods fun and beneficial. A well balanced diet is essential to encouraging a healthy, active lifestyle, no matter what your age. So eat, drink and be merry… with the right choices, and always in moderation.