A healthy diet plan for seniors should take into account the changing nutritional needs we experience as we age. Slower metabolism means the calories consumed will have a greater impact, while greater risk for certain age-related conditions makes it essential to control salt and fat in the diet. Most important is ensuring the diet plan provides the right amount of vitamins and minerals.
Research suggests that proper nutrition can help keep the mind sharp, the immune system strong and the body healthy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends two to two and one-half cups each of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, as well as seven to eight ounces of whole grains, two to three cups of low-fat or fat-free dairy products, five and one-half ounces of lean protein and no more than six teaspoons of healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils.
Women older than 50 require between 1,600 and 2,200 calories per day, depending on activity level. Men need between 2,000 and 2,800 calories. Excessive calories lead to weight gain, which has been associated with increased risk for hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. Keep calorie consumption under control by reducing sugar and fat, watching portion size and eating several small meals per day instead of three large ones.
Changing Nutritional Needs
As we age, our nutritional needs change. Seniors often benefit from reduced sodium and fat consumption and increased calcium, vitamin D and fiber. Additionally, because metabolism slows with age, it makes sense to substitute whole foods for processed or refined ones. For example, homemade oatmeal cookies, compared with packaged products, can contain more fiber and less sugar and fat, making them a tasty treat that also offers nutritional benefits.
Creating a healthier diet plan for seniors is easy when you make one small change at a time. You can reduce fat consumption simply by serving fish or chicken in place of beef a few times a week or switching to canola or olive oil for cooking. When eating out, order broiled or grilled entrees. Eat nuts, seeds or fat-free pretzels instead of potato chips. When a few small changes are introduced, the transition is easier, and the results add up quickly.
Avoid diets that restrict calories drastically. Eating too little robs the body of the nutrients it requires to function properly and remain strong. If you're trying to lose weight, stick with the recommended calorie intake, and increase physical activity instead. And always strive for balance in diet plans for seniors. A wide variety of foods is necessary to ensure adequate nutrition -- and to make meals enjoyable as well as healthy.
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