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Eating a variety of healthy foods is important for older adults.

Healthy eating is important for older adults

Friday, March 5, 2021

Eating healthy foods is obviously a key factor in the development of children’s strong bones, muscles and teeth. However, those nutritional needs are still present for older adults.

“Eating right doesn’t have to be complicated, even though older adults may face some issues that make meal planning even more important,” said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Extension nutrition specialist. “Older adults can have health challenges such as difficulty swallowing, or they possibly have lost some of their teeth, which makes chewing a challenge. No matter what challenges they face, the nutritional requirements still are important.”

For needed nutrients, build a healthy plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean proteins. Try to fill about half the plate with fruits and vegetables, including foods that are dark green, red and orange. Beans, peas and lentils also are good choices. Look for labels that indicate foods are reduced sodium or no salt added.

Hermann said when choosing foods from the grains food group, make at least half of them whole grains. Choose breads, cereals, crackers and noodles made with 100% whole grains. Whole grain corn tortillas, brown rice, bulgur, millet, amaranth and oats all count as whole grains.

Older adults need more calcium and vitamin D to keep their bones healthy. Daily dietary requirements include three servings of fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese each day. Lactose-free milk or a calcium-fortified soy beverage is a good choice for those who are lactose intolerant, she said.

When choosing protein, eat from a variety of sources, including seafood, nuts, beans, peas, lean meat, poultry and eggs. Hermann said to spread protein intake throughout the day by including a lean source with meals and snacks. Protein foods are a good source of vitamin B12, which is a nutrient that decreases in absorption as people age or due to some medications.

Try to limit sodium, saturated fat and added sugars. Read the labels on foods. It can be surprising what foods contain added sugar and sodium. Avoid desserts, fried foods and processed meat such as sausages and hotdogs. This doesn’t mean a person must give up these foods entirely, but limit how often these foods are consumed.

“Be sure to watch portion sizes, too. People routinely underestimate the size of food servings. It’s even harder when eating out because restaurants serve large portions,” Hermann said. “Your best bet is to either split the meal with your spouse or a friend, or ask for a to-go container when your food is served. Split the meal in half and package it right away. Don’t be tempted to overindulge.”

Being healthy in later years isn’t just about diet. Physical activity remains as important as it was as a child. Hermann said to pick enjoyable activities such as gardening, bowling or simply a daily walk after lunch.

“No one expects you to run a 4-minute mile, but start by doing what you can. Every bit adds up and health benefits will increase as you spend more time being active,” she said.

For more information on nutrition, wellness and health, see OSU Extension’s website.

March is National Nutrition MonthÒ and was initiated in 1973 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a week-long observance. It became a month-long observance in 1980 in response to the growing interest in nutrition.

MEDIA CONTACT: Trisha Gedon | Agricultural Communications Services | 405-744-3625 | trisha.gedon@okstate.edu

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