Pick up any guide to healthy living, and there are usually two major components, no matter the person’s age, sex, or race: eat healthy, and get plenty of physical exercise.
And while that advice is timeless, and right for most people, everyone needs to take care of their bodies differently, depending on factors such as age. For many people aged 60 and older, healthy eating can become more difficult, as a result of increased dietary restrictions among older people.
To help Baby Boomers and seniors eat balanced diets as part of an overall health plan, RetirementHomes.com spoke with Burbank, California-based Ruth Frechman, Registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
According to Frechman, the biggest challenge facing most people in their quest to eat healthy is not necessarily a biological reason, but simply the difficulty of breaking bad habits. But for seniors, breaking habits and eating well can be harder than their younger peers.
“Unfortunately, most people of all ages haven’t learned to eat healthy, and it’s difficult to change habits,” Frechman said. “But the older we get, the harder it gets to change habits at that point.”
While habits are never easy to change, Frechman recommended that seniors follow the health strategy outlined by the United States Department of Agriculture in their ‘My Plate’ guidelines , which suggest that half of a person’s plate should be filled with vegetables, about one-quarter should be made up of lean protein, and the remaining quarter should be filled with complex carbohydrates.
Although the ‘My Plate’ guideline is not geared for seniors specifically, Frechman said it is a good benchmark for most people.
Another major yardstick for seniors to eat healthy is to eat as efficiently as possible.
“This is very important for older people,” Frechman told RetirementHomes.com. “Get the most amount of nutrients for the least amount of calories.”
She explained that with advanced age typically comes a slower metabolism, and that can mean the human body takes longer to process and digest food. As a result, it can be easier for seniors to put on excess weight, and therefore it becomes more important for them to consume the protein they need, without the ingredients and calories they don’t need.
Because older people tend to experience slower metabolisms, Frechman said that putting on excess weight is a common problem among seniors, but that after the age of 80, appetites tend to decrease. The statistics back up her statements: In 2010, a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found one-third of Americans aged 65 and older were obese, and the Public Health Agency of Canada in 2010 found only slightly lower numbers in Canada.