Seniors Face Unique Challenges Achieving a Healthy Diet

By Jon Benson

Summer Cooking Tips to Help Older Adults Reintroduce Fresh, Healthy Fare to Their Tables

A balanced diet low in sodium, rich with essential nutrients, and a controlled amount of calories is important at any age, but for the more than 36 million Americans over age 65, healthy eating presents unique challenges. As people grow older, their nutrition requirements change. Their rate of metabolism declines, their bodies require fewer calories, and the risk of weight gain increases. Taste buds begin to deteriorate and with them the ability to appreciate subtle flavors, which may potentially draw older adults to sugar, unhealthy fats, and salt-laden prepared and packaged foods instead of delicious and nutrient-dense fresh fruits and vegetables.

How Does Healthy Eating Get Off Track as You Age? 

Many older adults may only prepare meals for one and therefore worry about wasting wholesome ingredients, like fresh fruits, vegetables, meats or dairy, which can spoil quickly and may require more frequent restocking. Seniors may find themselves choosing what is quick and easya frozen, prepared, or take-out meal that is high in fat, salt, and caloriesrather than taking the time and labor to prepare fresh, nutritious meals. An unbalanced diet can complicate existing health problems or put older adults at risk for obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes, which could jeopardize their ability to remain independent over the long term.

Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the key lifestyle choices for older adults who want to stay independent and active, said Jon Benson, director of culinary operations for a national senior living provider. I encourage older adults to take advantage of all the delicious fruits and vegetables at the peak of freshness this time of year.

Fresh and Healthy Summertime Fare
Summer is an ideal time for older adults to reintroduce themselves to fruits and vegetables that are surprisingly delicious, convenient, packed with vitamins and minerals, and naturally low in fat, calories, and sodium. Many fruits and vegetables reach their peak freshness during the summer and have a versatile range of low-fuss preparation methods such as eating them raw or microwave cooking. During the summer months, fresh, locally grown produce is readily available at the area farmers markets making healthy meal planning even easier for older adults.

Summer Cooking Tips for All Ages
Jon Benson recommends the following cooking tips to make the most out of the summer season:

  • Shop at the farmers market: Visit a local farmers market and choose a new vegetable you have never prepared before. You can also be more selective about the amount of food that you buy, for example, choosing two large carrots for a meal versus a whole bag of carrots from the grocery store.
  • Fire up the grill: Countless vegetables and even some fruits can be grilled for an easy one-person meal. Grilling requires less cleanup than stovetop cooking, and you can easily marinate meats and vegetables in a plastic zipper bag. A piece of salmon or chicken breast can be grilled and served on top of a mixed green salad with vinaigrette dressing.
  • Season to perfection: Add flavorful herbs from the garden such as rosemary, basil, dill, or lavender to your cooking.
  • Build your plate: Portion the food on your plate to include approximately one-fourth portion of fruits, one-fourth portion of vegetables, one-fourth portion of a meat or protein and one-fourth portion of a whole grain. Add a small portion of low-fat dairy and you have a perfectly balanced meal.
  • Mix refreshing drinks: Stay cool by making your own smoothies or fruit-infused water. Adding cucumber or watermelon to ice water is a refreshing alternative to high-calorie sodas.
  • Freeze your fruits: Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries can be frozen for use at a later time, reducing food waste.