Eat Right, Bite by Bite

Published: March 4, 2020

Eat Right, Bite by Bite

These days, it’s hard not to hear something about nutrition—how dairy may not be as healthy as we think, or some supplements may not be so great, or how no one is getting enough fiber. For older adults especially, it can be hard to know for sure what foods are good for you and which you should avoid.

If you have an older loved one, this might also be the time to have a conversation about his or her dietary choices. For example:

Make sure your diet is well-balanced. A nutritious diet provides sufficient vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, and fat—but not too much fat! Include a good balance of foods from all the food groups. The best way to get the nutrients you need is to eat a variety of foods every day.

Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can cause health problems or make existing ones worse.

  • High blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and certain forms of cancer are linked to obesity.
  • Excess weight puts a strain on the bones and joints, aggravating arthritis and osteoporosis.
  • As people gain too much weight, they tend to become more sedentary and get even less exercise.

Being underweight also threatens health. Your healthcare provider can prescribe a diet to promote weight gain, possibly with nutritional supplements.

Limit fat and cholesterol. Our bodies need a certain amount of fat—and yes, even cholesterol—to stay healthy. Watch your consumption of meat, dairy products, fast foods, gooey desserts and other high-fat and high-cholesterol choices. High-fat/high-cholesterol diets are linked with a greater chance of heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, and other disorders.

Watch your sodium. We need some sodium (salt) in our diets, but the salt that naturally occurs in food is enough. Most Americans consume too much salt, leading to an increase in high blood pressure, kidney disease, and heart conditions.

The importance of calcium. Getting enough calcium can be a challenge, but it’s necessary for good nerve function and for preventing osteoporosis (a condition in which the bones become fragile and fracture easily). Dairy products are a good source of calcium, though some older adults can’t digest milk and milk products easily. Add other foods, such as broccoli and kale, which also contain calcium. Your healthcare provider may also suggest a calcium supplement.

Don’t forget fiber. Dietary fiber helps prevent chronic intestinal diseases and constipation. It also makes you feel fuller faster, so you tend to take in fewer calories. Fiber is found in many plant products. Choose whole-grains and add plenty of vegetables and fruits.

Vitamin and mineral supplements. These may be recommended, but don’t overdo it! It’s possible to take harmful amounts of some vitamins, and older adults process toxic substances less efficiently. Your healthcare provider can recommend appropriate supplements and dosages.

Each March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics focuses attention on healthful eating through National Nutrition Month.

This year’s theme, Eat Right, Bite by Bite, promotes eating a variety of nutritious foods every day, and planning and creating healthful meals each week. Talk to your healthcare provider about how to eat well (for you or your loved one), or with a dietitian or nutritionist who is knowledgeable about the nutritional needs of older adults.