Healthy Eating for the Older Adult
There is no denying that our bodies change as we get older. At different stages of life our nutrition requirements change. What about when we reach our golden years? Not only does our nutrition requirements change, but our social situations do as well. You may be used to preparing a meal for a family and then learning to adjust to cooking for one or two. Sometimes, it’s just hard to put a lot of effort into preparing a meal when it’s just yourself to feed. To address these concerns, I have some information on what nutrients older adults may be interested in looking out for. I also have some tips on how to get closer to meeting these nutrition requirements when the desire to cook becomes a challenge.
- Calcium and Vitamin D are the nutrients that are essential to bone health. Calcium not only helps to build and maintain our bone structure, but it also allows our blood to clot, our muscles to contract, and our heart to beat. The levels of Calcium in our blood have to be in a tight range because as we lose Calcium through our skin, hair, nails and more, our bodies need to replace it. Our bodies cannot make Calcium on its own so if we do not get enough in our diet, it will get it from our bones. It’s ok if this happens now and then but if it happens consistently, it can lead to low bone density and high risk of broken bones. Where does Vitamin D fit into all of this? Vitamin D helps our body to absorb Calcium so these two nutrients pair well with each other.
- For those above the age of 50, 1200 mg of Calcium and at least 1000 IU of Vitamin D is needed each day. We can get this from foods and if necessary, from supplements. How do you know if you are getting enough? Check this website You can also ask your health care provider or dietitian for more information.
- Tips to increase Calcium in your diet:
- Add milk, milk alternatives (fortified with Calcium and Vitamin D) to prepare cream soups or sauces or hot cereals
- Sprinkle cheese on sandwiches, vegetables, or salads
- Include more of these foods which are good sources of Calcium
Preserving Muscle Mass
- Even as young as the age of 30, we begin to lose muscle mass. The rate at which that happens depends on a variety of things, physical activity and nutrition intake being two important factors. This loss of muscle mass with age, called Sarcopenia, can contribute to frailty, problems with mobility and increased risk of falls. When it comes to nutrition, Protein is the nutrient that is of main concern and getting enough it important to help maintain and build muscle. Protein comes from meat, fish, poultry, milk, yogurt (especially Greek yogurt), nuts, seeds, eggs, tofu, and pulses such as chickpeas, lentils and beans. Having a source of this nutrient with every meal (about ¼ of your plate) helps get you on your way to meeting your requirements. Still not sure? Meet with a Registered Dietitian to find out!
When Cooking Becomes a Chore
- Prepare food when you have the most energy
- Make extra servings so you have leftovers
- Keep a list of favourite recipes with only a few ingredients that are quick to make. You can find a few examples of simple recipes here.
- Participate in cooking classes to get some inspiration of what new meals to try or to gain a little more confidence in the kitchen
- Buy bagged salads or pre-chopped vegetables
- Share a potluck dinner with friends
- Exchange recipes with others
- Keep beans, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables on hand to add to your meals when not feeling like doing a whole lot of prep work. If using canned, rinse under water for 30 seconds to reduce sugar or salt content.
Andrea Kennedy RD CDE