Everyone has heard of the saying to treat your body like a temple, but most people do not usually do that. However, as we age our bodies start to feel worse and sometimes that is because of what we have put and are continuing to put in it. Eating a healthy, well balanced diet can improve your mood and overall well-being. You might remember the food pyramid from growing up, but recently the USDA came up with something called MyPlate that can help you see what you should be eating for a well rounded and healthy diet. The most important food groups for elderly individuals to eat are protein, dairy, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Make sure you remember to stay away from the types of foods that are high in salt, processed sugars, and carbohydrates but look for foods that have Vitamin D, iron, B vitamins, and plenty of fiber for example to fulfill your body’s nutritional needs. Staying away from processed sugars and foods that are high in carbohydrates is especially important for seniors with diabetes who must watch their blood sugar levels.
Eating properly is beneficial for older people to help prolong their lives and to help their bodies remain healthy for longer. Maintaining a healthy diet has a lot of health benefits such as helping with weight loss to maintain a healthy weight; improving your immune system and energy level; reducing the risk of some chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or coronary heart disease; improving your eye and gut health; reducing inflammation and joint pain; and by providing your body with proper nutrition.
Protein: When it comes to eating protein, you want to stick to the lean kind like lean meats, eggs, seafood, and beans as well as making sure you are buying fresh produce rather than frozen goods. Frozen products tend to have chemical additives that are unhealthy and can be harmful to your health over time. Chicken is always a good choice as a lean meat, but if you want red meat just opt for the one that has less fat as indicated on the packaging. Choosing lean meats lowers your risk of coronary heart disease since it has less saturated fat which in turn means you are not raising your LDL levels, also known as bad cholesterol, as much. Salmon is rich in protein and also has omega-3 fatty acids, a fat your body cannot naturally produce on its own and an excellent fighter against heart disease. Omega-3 prevents blood clots and can lower your blood pressure. In addition to how it can help you physically, omega-3 has been shown to help reduce rates and feelings of depression and anxiety as well as reduce aggressive tendencies in individuals. Getting protein in your diet is important because it has iron, which is important for producing cells to carry oxygen in your bloodstream. Eating lean protein also can provide you with more magnesium in your diet, which helps keep your bones strong and prevents muscle loss. So, instead of picking a hot dog at the next barbecue a good idea would be to go for a grilled chicken sandwich instead.
Dairy: The dairy group includes the classic milk, cheese, and yogurt, but also soy-milk and lactose-free products. A common misconception among people is that if something lacks lactose, like lactose-free products, that also means they are dairy free. Having enough dairy in your diet is key to maintaining strong bones, especially as we age, since it is a key source of calcium. Getting enough calcium in your diet helps prevent the onset of osteoporosis, something that seniors have to worry about more than younger adults. Calcium also fortifies our teeth and could delay the need for dentures. Controlling your blood pressure is important and can be helped by having enough potassium in your diet, which can be found in dairy products. Vitamin D can be found in dairy products that specifically say they are fortified with it and it is helpful for slowing bone mineral loss and it can help with cognitive functions as studies have found. If you are a coffee drinker, one of the easiest and best ways to get dairy and calcium in your diet is by using low fat or fat free milk instead of creamer.
Grains: Eating whole grains compared to regular, white grain is far healthier for your gut and has some other added health benefits. Getting fiber from whole grains can help reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Whole grains provide the B vitamins that older people lack as well as folate, which is important because when people lack folate in their system our bodies tend to mimic the symptoms of Alzheimers. Many whole grains also contain higher contents of fiber, which is helpful for better digestive health and for lowering cholesterol. Cutting out unhealthy and excessive carbohydrates can improve your neural function overall. Some forms of healthier whole grain foods are whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice. You can also purchase quinoa since it is a healthy grain with plenty of fiber and it is rich in protein and B vitamins.
Fruits: Eating plenty of fresh fruit or drinking fresh fruit juice is a great way to boost your immune system and are an important food group that should be included in your diet. Oranges are one of the best natural sources of Vitamin C, a vitamin that is essential for a healthy immune system and one that our body cannot make on its own so incorporating oranges or orange juice into your diet can be helpful. Blackberries have plenty of fiber and bananas are loaded with potassium. Another fruit that tends to get overlooked as falling into the category are avocados. Avocados have plenty of healthy fat and are a great source of fiber, both of which can lower your LDL levels. Making sure you eat enough fruit has also been shown to help lower blood pressure.
Vegetables: Making sure you eat plenty of vegetables or drink vegetable juice can help with certain health issues like reducing your risk for certain cancers, heart disease, and stroke. Eating sweet potatoes, for example, has many health benefits such as promoting a healthier gut, it has plenty of antioxidants that protect our bodies from free radicals which can lead to cancers and heart disease, they can improve our brain function, and also can improve your ocular health. However, you do not want to eat too many potatoes or only eat them as your source of vegetable since they are very high in carbohydrates. Making sure you eat your greens is crucial, so having salads with a light amount of low fat or fat-free dressing or strictly with olive oil makes for a healthy meal. Olive oil can help reduce inflammation and extra virgin olive oil specifically can help protect your heart from coronary heart disease.
Now you might be wondering about other food items that you should or should not eat that might not fall into these specific categories. For example, when it comes to eating dessert it is always okay to have a treat so long as you watch your calorie intake. Dark chocolate could be a healthier alternative for a dessert since it is high in fiber, a serving of it contains about half of the daily recommended values for iron and copper, and it also is chalk full of antioxidants that can lower blood pressure and your LDL levels. Buying healthy snacks is also important like whole wheat crackers, baked or low sodium chips, or dried fruits. Eating healthy is a holistic effort in both your full meals but also what you might choose to snack on during the day. However, you still have to watch how much you are eating because these items can become unhealthy if you overindulge on them.
Eating healthily and getting proper nutrition does not need to be a daunting task when there are many ways to go about it. Simply cooking on your own can ensure you have a healthy meal, or healthier in comparison to eating out. Making sure you do not overfill your plate makes it easier to not overeat and drinking plenty of water can also help you decide if you are truly hungry or just thirsty. You do not have to have a plate that is divided into the different food groups, but instead incorporate as many as you can together to make a cohesive meal. Purchasing fresh produce eliminates the additives that frozen goods contain and the other aspects such as extra sodium content and fat. Healthy eating can improve both your physical and mental health. If weight loss is your ultimate goal, eating healthy foods is not the only factor that helps maintain a healthy body weight. Couple a healthy diet with exercise, and you can start to lead a much healthier life.