Written by Nathalia Frenhani Burini, Horticulture & Landscape Design Intern
The diet of the elderly person generally follows the same principles of healthy diet recommended for all adults. However, it is important to redouble the care regarding the choice, preparation and combination of foods, in order to guarantee their adequacy and good acceptance.
It is also important to establish healthy life routines, even at older ages, in order to keep your body and mind in balance. Thus, it is important to encourage regular physical exercise such as walking, and routine activities such as gardening, walking your pet, in addition to having pleasant readings, not smoking and not drinking alcohol.
If you have culinary skills, try to develop them and share them with family and friends. If you don’t have these skills, talk to people who can cook, ask family and friends for recipes, read books, check the internet and discover the rewarding experience of preparing your own food. To avoid food waste, cook small portions and freeze the food whenever possible to eat in the near future.
Healthy eating habits throughout life promotes healthier aging, prevention against diseases common to aging such as osteoporosis, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. Below are some recommendations for aging healthy:
Tips for healthy eating:
- Have a routine for mealtimes and try to stick to them (breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner) and, if you find you need more, eat other meals in between, such as a mid-morning snack, with quality food choices (discussed more in-depth below).
- Choose a pleasant spot to eat. Clean, calm and airy environments provide greater comfort, safety and autonomy. They positively impact self-esteem, meal preparation and enjoyment of the meal. Avoid noisy or stressful environments.
- Share meals with others whenever possible. The presence of family, friends or neighbors at meal times provide more enjoyment and increase appetite. Choose one or more meals a week to share with someone, keeping a pleasant and happy atmosphere socializing with dear ones.
- Prefer foods in their most natural form. Reduce your consumption of ultra-processed foods (such as stuffed/sandwich cookies, sweets, chips, instant soup and noodles, ‘ready-to-eat seasonings’, dressings, cured meats, frozen foods, etc.). They tend to contain high amounts of sugar, fat and salt. The more real (fresh) foods you eat, the higher the quality of what you are eating will be. Give preference to whole grains and foods in their most natural form, such as cereals (rice, wheat, oats, quinoa), legumes (beans, soybeans, chickpeas, peas, lentils), vegetables and fruits.
- Do not rush meals and take the time to chew the food well. Taste as if you are discovering food for the first time, feel the different flavors. Listen to your hunger and satiety, your appetite and cravings. Respect your body’s reactions and cues. If you have limitations for chewing and swallowing, adapt the method of preparation, the consistency, the texture, the size of the food and the amount eaten. Grinding, grating, chopping into smaller pieces can be viable alternatives to facilitate intake. These measures prevent an outright refusal of the meal or even serious complications such as choking or aspirations.
- Include fruits, legumes, and vegetables in your diet. In addition to being rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber, the intake of these foods decreases the risk of various diseases and helps intestinal function. Prioritize fruits and vegetables that are currently in season for best nutritional quality and get the best price! Farmer’s Markets are also good options for buying fresh seasonal produce.
- Grow your own horticulture garden! Another way to acquire quality food is to grow them in your house. Harvesting your own food is very rewarding and a healthy hobby. You can have more control of your produce including the choice to grow organic.
- Include choices of lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products in at least one meal a day. Milk and dairy products help to strengthen bones. Meat, poultry, fish and eggs are rich in protein and minerals. Removing apparent fat from meat and poultry skin prior to preparation makes these foods healthier as well.
- Oils, fats, sugar and salt with moderation. Reduce sugar and excess salt, replacing them with natural spices (such as fruit, parsley, garlic, onion, basil, oregano, coriander, rosemary, among others). Opt for recipes that do not include sugar in their preparation and avoid fried and fatty preparations. There is no need to restrict food, moderation is the key.
- Pay attention to the temperature of the food. Foods that are too hot or too cold should be avoided due to thermal sensitivity. Foods that are eaten cold should be removed from the refrigerator a little while before the mealtime, and the hot foods, must be at a tolerable temperature.
- Pick up cooking as a new hobby and invest in healthy eating. It helps you to eat better and eat less processed foods. And you don’t have to be a chef, just the basics will improve your health. Take the opportunity to share your culinary skills with family and friends. Cooking your own food and sharing it with others make meals more pleasant and enjoyable.
- Drink water! It is the best way to hydrate your body. Also, decrease the intake of sugary drinks (such as soft drinks and industrialized juices and teas) and alcoholic drinks. Flavoring the water with mint or fruit, such as slices and orange or lemon peels, is a good choice as well. Drink water preferably between meals.
- Make a shopping list. It is important not to forget the essential ingredients for your recipes and also to avoid buying more than necessary. If you can, also organize your pantry and set the week’s menu in advance to ensure you have everything ready for your meals.
Important to remember: The more varied and colorful your diet is, the more balanced and tasty it will be!
Ultra-processed products should be avoided or consumed only occasionally. Although convenient and with a pronounced taste, these products tend to be nutritionally unbalanced and, for the most part, contain high amounts of sugar, fat and salt.
Pay attention to the nutritional information and ingredients list on the labels of ultra-processed products to help you choose healthier food products. The labels of these products (such as cookies, bread rolls, yoghurts, cereal bars, among others) are a way of communicating with consumers and contain important information about their composition. Be careful for information, guidance and messages you see about food in commercial advertisements, as advertisements generally seek to increase the sale of products and can be misleading with information.
Written by Dr. Patricia Baston Frignani, Dietitian and Nutritionist, PhD in Food Science. Proofread by Nathalia Frenhani Burini
Tufts University. (2016, March 7). Tufts University Nutrition Scientists Provide Updated MyPlate for Older Adults. Tufts Now. https://now.tufts.edu/news-releases/tufts-university-nutrition-scientists-provide-updated-myplate-older-adults.
Tufts University. Shopping tips and recipes. My Plate for Older Adults. https://hnrca.tufts.edu/myplate/shopping-tips/.
USA.gov. (2019, April 30). Reading Food Labels. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/reading-food-labels.