We change over time. And our eating habits should, too. The recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 address this by including life stages, like older adulthood, for the first time. The guidelines take into account that people ages 60 and up:
- Need more nutrients, but fewer calories
- Have lost bone and muscle mass
- May be overweight or obese
- Have a higher risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other conditions
Even now, making small dietary changes can offer numerous health benefits. And it’s never too late to improve your eating habits!
The Building Blocks of a Healthy Diet
While this life-stage approach is new, the advice for all adults is familiar. The recommendations still emphasize the importance of:
- Vegetables – including dark green, red and orange varieties, as well as peas and lentils
- Fruits – whole fruits in particular
- Protein – from seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds
- Grains – primarily whole grains
- Dairy – especially fat-free and low-fat products
- Oils – including unsaturated vegetable oils and oils found in food, such as nuts and seafood
The best options from each food group are the ones with little or no added sugars, saturated fat and sodium. How many servings should you have? The answer depends on your daily calorie needs, which is based on factors such as your age, sex, height, weight and physical activity. To calculate this, try the MyPlate Plan tool.
Unique Nutrient Needs
Older adults still need ample fiber, calcium, potassium and vitamin D. However, protein and vitamin B12 become increasingly important with age. Protein helps preserve muscle mass, while vitamin B12 supports brain and nerve function and the creation of red blood cells. Talk with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian nutritionist if you have questions about how to meet your individual nutritional needs.
Also, make sure you get enough water – even if you don’t feel thirsty. Some chronic conditions and medicines make it harder to digest food and absorb nutrients. Not drinking enough fluids compounds these problems. Talk with your provider if bladder control or mobility concerns discourage you from drinking water.
Overall, think of these guidelines as a framework. Have fun tailoring the eating plan to fit your budget, traditions and preferences! And remember: It’s never too late to benefit from healthier eating habits.
Sources: U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health