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Eat right for health

As we get older, our dietary preferences can change. You may notice that the foods you enjoyed in your youth are harder to digest or that certain desserts you once loved are too sweet for your palate. Just as tastes evolve, nutritional and dietary needs also change, especially for older adults.

While food is certainly an enjoyable experience, it should also be viewed as fuel to nourish your body. Seniors can follow these tips for a well-rounded diet.

Make calories count

Older adults typically require fewer calories. The average 60-year-old woman generally needs 1,600-1,800 calories per day, while a 60-year-old man should get 2,000-2,200 calories per day.

Choose nutrient-rich foods to ensure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need while maintaining your weight. Eat fruits and vegetables of different colors, and whole grains instead of white rice and white bread. Small changes such as choosing a spinach salad over iceberg lettuce, or starting the day with oatmeal and a banana instead of tea and toast can make a difference in your overall health.

Protein is important for older adults, but many seniors don’t get enough. Make sure your diet includes healthy, low-fat proteins such as lean beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, beans and lentils. Protein can help maintain energy and keep muscles strong to support a healthy, active lifestyle. This can also help with fall prevention.

Supplement your diet

On the other side of the spectrum, many seniors have a poor appetite due to medical conditions, medication side effects or even reduced socialization. Those who have trouble maintaining their weight should incorporate high-calorie (but healthy) foods with added nutrients, such as milk fortified with vitamin D, orange juice fortified with calcium orbreakfast cereals fortified with vitamins and minerals.

Rather than three meals a day, try more frequent small meals. Eat healthy, calorie-dense snacks such as nuts, peanut butter on whole wheat bread, avocado, fruit and yogurt smoothies or cheese. Incorporate heart-healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil into your cooking to increase your calorie count.

Ask your doctor about taking a supplement drink or multivitamin if you feel like you may be at risk of becoming malnourished.

Stay hydrated

Older adults can experience a diminished sense of thirst, but that doesn’t mean your body needs less water. On the contrary, seniors are more susceptible to fluid and electrolyte imbalances, which means it’s even more important to stay hydrated.

Medications such as diuretics, laxatives and antihistamines can cause water and electrolyte depletion. Conditions that cause difficulty swallowing or incontinence can make seniors feel like they should limit their own water intake. Aim to drink eight glasses of water or nonsugary fluids per day.

Learning to make mealtime a pleasant and mindful experience can help you enjoy wholesome foods that benefit your total health.

By Jill Poentis, registered dietitian nutritionist, at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii.

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