Nutrition needs change with age. Some changes are gradual while others are more obvious. You may notice, for example, that your body shape is changing, or that you have less interest in food than you did before. Many people over the age of 65 are either under- or over-nourished.
Under-nourishment occurs when you do not eat enough food. This may lead to unintended weight loss and put you at an increased risk for infections, anemia, electrolyte imbalances, and more.
Over-nourishment occurs when you consume more calories than your body needs. If you find that you are not as physically active as you once were, but you continue to eat as much as you always have, you may find yourself gaining and carrying excess weight. Metabolism slows with age, which can also contribute to unwanted weight gain. Overweight and obesity can result, which are associated with chronic conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes.
Both under-nourishment and over-nourishment can be prevented with a well-balanced diet that contains the nutrients you need to stay healthy as you age. The best diet for healthy aging is one that is nutrient-dense. A nutrient-dense eating pattern contains a variety of nutrient-rich foods that meet your daily calorie needs without providing too many calories. Nutrient-rich foods, which are foods that are high in nutrients in relation to their calories, include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and nonfat or low-fat dairy.
Nutrient-Dense Eating Patterns for Healthy Aging
MyPlate for Older Adults
MyPlate for older adults emphasizes key messages from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, but with a few additional considerations for this stage of life. This eating pattern encourages older adults to consume:
- A variety of vegetables, including dark green, red, and orange; legumes (beans and peas); and other vegetables, including those that are starchy.
- Fruits, especially whole fruits.
- Whole grains, especially those fortified with vitamin B12.
- Fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and/or fortified soy beverages.
- A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products, and nuts and seeds.
- Oils, including those from plants (canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, sunflower, etc.) and those naturally present in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives, and avocados
- Water and other unsweetened fluids, such as those coming from tea, coffee, and soup.
MyPlate for older adults also recommends limiting sodium, saturated and trans fats, and added sugars. Spices and herbs are recommended to add flavor to foods.
The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend this eating pattern to promote health and prevent chronic disease. Its main components include:
- Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats, especially olive oil.
- Weekly consumption of fish, poultry, beans, and eggs.
- Limited intake of red meat and dairy products.
The DASH diet stands for the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (high blood pressure). Like the previous two eating patterns presented, the DASH diet encourages the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and plant-based protein, and discourages consumption of saturated fats and added sugar.
The MIND diet stands for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. A hybrid of the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet, the MIND diet is designed to promote brain health and prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Its primary components include vegetables, especially green leafy ones; nuts; berries; beans; whole grains; fish; poultry; and olive oil.
Nutrient Needs for Healthy Aging
The eating patterns described above contain foods that provide various nutrients that older adults need to age well, such as protein, fiber, unsaturated fat, calcium, vitamin D, potassium, vitamin B12, and folate. Vitamin deficiencies are common amongst older adults, however, so your doctor may recommend vitamin supplements, regardless of which healthy eating pattern you choose to adopt.
Health in Aging. n.d. “Nutrition.” Wellness & Prevention. Accessed September 13, 2021. https://www.healthinaging.org/a-z-topic/nutrition.
Keith Pearson. “The MIND Diet: A Detailed Guide for Beginners,” Healthline, July 30, 2017. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mind-diet.
Mayo Clinic. 2021. “Mediterranean diet for heart health.” Healthy Lifestyle, Nutrition and healthy eating. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eatin....
USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture). n.d. Older Adults. Life Stages. Accessed September 19, 2021. https://www.myplate.gov/life-stages/older-adults.
USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture). 2020. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture. PDF. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Gu....