What Diet Is the Best for Older Adults
Older adults have different nutritional needs as their bodies and activity levels change. Learn about what diets are best for seniors

Older adults have different nutritional needs as their bodies and activity levels change. They may require fewer calories and more protein to maintain muscle mass. They are also more prone to diseases such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, type II diabetes, and certain cancers.

Nutrient-dense foods that are low in empty calories are an essential part of any diet for older adults. Eating a balanced diet from a wide range of food groups can help older adults get the nutrition they need. Nutritious foods include fruits, vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy and whole grains. Foods to avoid include those high in saturated fats, sugars, and salt.

Why may the Mediterranean diet be good for older adults?

The Mediterranean diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, and olive oil. It is recommended by many dietitians for preventing disease especially in older adults.

Since the diet emphasizes eating polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and avoiding saturated and trans fats, it is good for older adults because these healthy fats promote brain and heart health and may even reduce the risk of type II diabetes and cancer.

Why may intermittent fasting be good for older adults?

Intermittent fasting may be good for older adults if there are no serious health conditions or current medications.

Intermittent fasting involves having set periods of fasting and eating. For example, it may involve having the last meal of the day at around 7 p.m. followed by breakfast at about 9 a.m., thus giving the body a 14-hour fasting window. During the fasting window, green tea or water is allowed.

This type of eating pattern may have benefits such as reduced insulin levels, lower cholesterol, and weight loss.

What foods should older adults eat?

  • Fiber-rich foods: Dark-green vegetables, beans, and lentils are great choices since the high fiber content can help control weight and prevent disease.
  • Foods rich in vitamins and minerals: Foods rich in B-complex vitamins (B12, B6, and folate or folic acid), calcium, and vitamin D should be eaten on a daily basis. These nutrients help promote brain, bone, and heart health.
  • Low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods: Older adults do not burn as many calories as younger adults, so they should keep their calorie intake low while still eating foods rich in nutrients.
  • Healthy fats: Healthy fats found in olive oil, avocado, and some seeds and fatty fish can boost healthy high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and fuel the brain.
  • Water: Some older adults lose their sense of thirst as they age. Older adults should aim to drink at least 8 glasses of water every day to stay hydrated.

What can older adults do to stay healthy?

For many older adults, eating healthy can be more challenging in their later years due to changes such as:

  • Health conditions that can make it harder for them to cook or feed themselves
  • Medications that can reduce appetite, dry out the mouth, or change the way foods taste
  • Impaired sense of smell and taste
  • Problems chewing or swallowing
  • Reduced finances

Planning ahead can help older adults stick to a healthier diet. For example, some experts recommend cooking meals ahead of time and freezing portions so that you always have something to eat later when you don’t feel like cooking.

In addition to eating a nutritious diet, try to be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day. You can start slowly with 10-minute sessions of walking and gradually increase the time and intensity as you get stronger. Talk to your doctor about exercises that are safe for your age and overall health.

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Exercises for Seniors: Tips for Core, Balance, Stretching See Slideshow

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Medically Reviewed on 5/10/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Image

National Institutes of Health. Healthy Meal Planning: Tips for Older Adults. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/healthy-meal-planning-tips-older-adults

HelpGuide. The Mediterranean Diet. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/diets/the-mediterranean-diet.htm