Nutrition and Diet Tips for Healthy Eating as You Age
For adults over 50, the benefits of healthy eating include increased mental acuteness,
resistance to illness and disease, higher energy levels, faster recuperation times, and better
management of chronic health problems. As we age, eating well can also be the key to a
positive outlook and staying emotionally balanced. But healthy eating doesn't have to be
about dieting and sacrifice. Whatever your age, eating well should be all about fresh,
colourful food, creativity in the kitchen, and eating with friends.
Healthy eating over 50:
Feeding the body, mind and soul
Remember the old adage, you are what you eat? Make it your motto. When you choose a
variety of colourful fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins you'll feel vibrant
and healthy, inside and out.
Live longer and stronger – Good nutrition keeps muscles, bones, organs, and other body
parts strong for the long haul. Eating vitamin-rich food boosts immunity and fights
illness-causing toxins. A proper diet reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood
pressure, type-2 diabetes, bone loss, cancer, and anaemia. Also, eating sensibly means
consuming fewer calories and more nutrient-dense foods, keeping weight in check.
Sharpen the mind – Key nutrients are essential for the brain to do its job. People who eat a
selection of brightly coloured fruit, leafy veggies, and fish and nuts packed with omega-3
fatty acids can improve focus and decrease their risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Feel better – Wholesome meals give you more energy and help you look better, resulting
in a self-esteem boost. It's all connected—when your body feels good you feel happier
inside and out.
How many calories do adults over 50 need?
Use the following as a guideline:
A woman over 50 who is:
Not physically active needs about 1600 calories a day
Somewhat physically active needs about 1800 calories a day
Very active needs about 2000 calories a day
A man over 50 who is:
Not physically active needs about 2000 calories a day
Somewhat physically active needs about 2200-2400 calories a day
Very active needs about 2400-2800 calories a day
Source: National Institute of Ageing
Of course, balanced nutrition is more than calorie counting. There are many other aspects
to creating a nutritious lifestyle.
Healthy eating over 50: What your body needs
Adults over 50 can feel better immediately and stay healthy for the future by choosing
healthy foods. A balanced diet and physical activity contribute to a higher quality of life
and enhanced independence as you age.
Food pyramid guidelines
Fruit – Focus on whole fruits rather than juices for more fibre and vitamins and aim for
around 1 ½ to 2 servings each day. Break the apple and banana rut and go for colour-rich
pickings like berries or melons.
Veggies – Colour is your credo in this category. Choose antioxidant-rich dark, leafy greens,
such as kale, spinach, and broccoli as well as orange and yellow vegetables, such as carrots, squash, and yams. Try for 2 to 2 ½ cups of veggies every day.
Calcium – Maintaining bone health as you age depends on adequate calcium intake to
prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures. Older adults need 1,200 mg of calcium a day
through servings of milk, yogurt, or cheese. Non-dairy sources include tofu, broccoli,
almonds, and kale.
Grains – Be smart with your carbs and choose whole grains over processed white flour for
more nutrients and more fibre. If you're not sure, look for pasta, breads, and cereals that
list "whole" in the ingredient list. Older adults need 6-7 ounces of grains each day (one
ounce is about 1 slice of bread).
Protein – Adults over 50 need about 0.5 grams per pound of bodyweight. Simply divide
your bodyweight in half to know how many grams you need. A 130-pound woman will
need around 65 grams of protein a day. A serving of tuna, for example, has about 40 grams
of protein. Vary your sources with more fish, beans, peas, nuts, eggs, milk, cheese, and
Important vitamin and minerals
Water – As we age, some of us are prone to dehydration because our bodies lose some of
the ability to regulate fluid levels and our sense of thirst is may not be as sharp. Post a note in your kitchen reminding you to sip water every hour and with meals to avoid
urinary tract infections, constipation, and even confusion.
Vitamin B – After 50, your stomach produces less gastric acid making it difficult to absorb
vitamin B-12—needed to help keep blood and nerves vital. Get the recommended daily
intake (2.4 mcg) of B12 from fortified foods or a vitamin supplement.
Vitamin D – We get most of our vitamin D intake—essential to absorbing calcium and
boosting muscles—through sun exposure and certain foods (fatty fish, egg yolk, and
fortified milk). With age, our skin is less efficient at synthesising vitamin D, so consult
your doctor about supplementing your diet with fortified foods or a multivitamin,
especially if you're obese or have limited sun exposure.
Healthy eating over 50: Tips for wholesome eating
Once you're used to eating nutrient-dense food, your body will feel slow and sluggish if
you eat less wholesome fare. Here's how to get in the habit of eating well.
Reduce sodium (salt) to help prevent water retention and high blood pressure. Look for
the "low sodium" label and season meals with garlic, herbs, and spices instead of salt.
Enjoy good fats. Reap the rewards of olive oil, avocados, salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, and
other monounsaturated fats. The fat from these delicious sources can protect your body
against heart disease by controlling "bad" LDL cholesterol levels and raising "good" HDL
Add fibre. Avoid constipation, lower the risk of chronic diseases, and feel fuller longer by
increasing your fibre intake from foods such as raw fruits and veggies, whole-grains, and
Avoid "bad" carbs. Bad carbohydrates—also known as simple or unhealthy carbs—are
foods such as white flour, refined sugar, and white rice that have been stripped of all bran,
fibre, and nutrients. Bad carbs digest quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels and
short-lived energy. For long-lasting energy and stable insulin levels, choose "good" or
complex carbs such as whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
Look for hidden sugar. Added sugar can be hidden in foods such as bread, canned soups
and vegetables, pasta sauce, instant mashed potatoes, frozen dinners, fast food, and
ketchup. Check food labels for other terms for sugar such as corn syrup, molasses, brown
rice syrup, cane juice, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, or maltose. Opt for fresh or frozen
vegetables instead of canned goods, and choose low-carb or sugar-free versions of
products such as tortillas, bread, pasta, and ice cream.
Cook smart. The best way to prepare veggies is by steaming or sautéing in olive oil—it
preserves nutrients. Forget boiling—it drains nutrients.
Put five colours on your plate. Take a tip from Japanese food culture and try to include
five colours on your plate. Fruits and veggies rich in colour correspond to rich nutrients
(think: blackberries, melons, yams, spinach, tomatoes, zucchini).
Healthy eating over 50: Changing dietary needs
Every season of life brings changes and adjustments to your body. Understanding what is
happening will help you take control of your nutrition requirements.
Metabolism. Every year over the age of forty, our metabolism slows. This means that even
if you continue to eat the same amount as when you were younger, you're likely to gain
weight because you're burning fewer calories. In addition, you may be less physically
active. Consult your doctor to decide if you should cut back on calories.
Weakened senses. Your taste and smell senses diminish with age. Older adults tend to lose
sensitivity to salty and bitter tastes first, so you may be inclined to salt your food more
heavily than before—even though older adults need less salt than younger people. Use
herbs, spices, and healthy oils—like olive oil—to season food instead of salt. Similarly,
older adults tend to retain the ability to distinguish sweet tastes the longest, leading some
to overindulge in sugary foods and snacks. Instead of adding sugar, try increasing
sweetness to meals by using naturally sweet food such as fruit, peppers, or yams.
Medications and illness. Some prescription medications and health problems can often
negatively influence appetite and may also affect taste, again leading older adults to add
too much salt or sugar to their food. Ask your doctor about overcoming side effects of
medications or specific physical conditions.
Digestion. Due to a slowing digestive system, you generate less saliva and stomach acid
as you get older, making it more difficult for your body to process certain vitamins and
minerals, such as B12, B6 and folic acid, which are necessary to maintain mental alertness,
a keen memory and good circulation. Up your fibre intake and talk to your doctor about
Loneliness and depression. Loneliness and depression affect your diet. For some, feeling
down leads to not eating and in others it may trigger overeating. Be aware if emotional
problems are affecting your diet, and take action by consulting your doctor or therapist.
Death or divorce. Some newly single adults may not know how to cook or may not feel
like cooking for one. People on limited budgets might have trouble affording a balanced,
Malnutrition is a critical health issue among older adults caused by eating too little food,
too few nutrients, and by digestive problems related to ageing. Malnutrition causes
fatigue, depression, weak immune system, anaemia, weakness, digestive, lung, and heart
problems, as well as skin concerns.
Tips for preventing malnutrition as you age
Eat nutrient packed food
Have flavourful food available
Snack between meals
Eat with company as much as possible
Get help with food preparation
Consult your doctor
Healthy eating over 50: Tips for creating a well-balanced diet
It doesn’t have to be difficult to swap a tired eating regimen for a tasty, well-balanced
Avoid skipping meals – This causes your metabolism to slow down, which leads to feeling
sluggish and making poorer choices later in the day.
Breakfast – Select high-fibre breads and cereals, colourful fruit, and protein to fill you with
energy for the day. Try yogurt with muesli and berries, a veggie-packed omelet, peanutbutter
on whole grain toast with a citrus salad, or old-fashioned oatmeal made with dried
cherries, walnuts, and honey.
Lunch – Keep your body fuelled for the afternoon with a variety of whole-grain breads,
lean protein, and fibre. Try a veggie quesadilla on a whole-wheat tortilla, veggie stew with
whole-wheat noodles, or a quinoa salad with roasted peppers and mozzarella cheese.
Dinner – End the day on a wholesome note. Try warm salads of roasted veggies and a side
of crusty brown bread and cheese, grilled salmon with spicy salsa, or whole-wheat pasta
with asparagus and shrimp. Opt for sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes and grilled
meat instead of fried.
Snacks – It’s okay, even recommended, to snack. But make sure you make it count by
choosing high-fibre snacks to healthfully tide you over to your next meal. Choose
almonds and raisins instead of chips, and fruit instead of sweets. Other smart snacks
include yogurt, cottage cheese, apples and peanut butter, and veggies and hummus.
Healthy eating over 50: Overcoming obstacles
Let’s face it, there’s a reason why so many of us have trouble eating nutritiously every
day. Sometimes it’s just quicker or easier to eat unhealthy food. If you’re having trouble
getting started on a healthy eating plan, these tips can help:
Say “no” to eating alone
Eating with others can be as important as adding vitamins to your diet. A social
atmosphere stimulates your mind and helps you enjoy meals. When you enjoy mealtimes,
you’re more likely to eat better. If you live alone, eating with company will take some
strategizing, but the effort will pay off.
Make a date to share lunch or dinners with children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews,
friends, and neighbours on a rotating basis.
Join in by taking a class, volunteering, or going on an outing, all of which can lead to new
friendships and dining buddies.
Adult day care centres provide both companionship and nutritious meals for older adults
who are isolated and lonely, or unable to prepare their own meals.
Senior meal programs are a great way to meet others. Contact your local Senior Centre,
YMCA, congregation, or high school and ask about senior meal programs.
Loss of appetite
First, check with your doctor to see if your loss of appetite could be due to medication
you're taking, and whether the medication or dosage can be changed. Try natural flavour
enhancers such as olive oil, vinegar, garlic, onions, ginger, and spices to boost your
Make chewing easier by drinking smoothies made with fresh fruit, yogurt, and protein
powder. Eat steamed veggies and soft food such as couscous, rice, and yogurt. Consult
your dentist to make sure your dentures are properly fitted.
Drink 8 – 10 glasses of water each day. Take a drink of water after each bite of food, add
sauces and salsas to your food to moisten it, avoid commercial mouthwash, and ask your
doctor about artificial saliva products.
I don’t like healthy food
If you were raised eating lots of meat and white bread, for example, a new way of eating
might sound off-putting. That’s understandable. But view eating healthily as an
adventure and start with small steps:
First and foremost, commit to keeping an open mind. Just because a food is healthy, it
doesn’t mean it can’t be tasty as well.
Try including a healthy fruit or veggie at every meal. You don’t have to change everything
all at once. Add a side salad to your dinner, for example, or substitute unhealthy fries with
baked sweet potato fries, or have a smaller portion of desert and fill up with melon and
Focus on how you feel after eating well – this will help foster new habits and tastes. The
more healthy food you eat, the better you’ll feel afterwards
Stuck in a rut
No matter how healthy your diet, eating the same foods over and over is bound to get
boring. Rekindle inspiration by browsing produce at a farmers market, reading a cooking
magazine, buying foods or spices you haven’t tried before, or chatting with friends about
what they eat. By making variety a priority, you’ll find it easier to get creative with
If you can’t shop or cook for yourself…
There are a number of possibilities, depending on your living situation, finances, and
Take advantage of home delivery. Many grocery stores have Internet or phone delivery
Swap services. Ask a friend, neighbourhood teen, or college student if they would be
willing to shop for you.
Share your home. If you live alone in a large home, consider having a housemate/
companion who would be willing to do the grocery shopping and cooking.
Hire a homemaker. Try to find someone who can do the shopping and meal preparation
Meals on Wheels
Meals on Wheels provides nutritious meals to people who are homebound and/or
disabled, or would otherwise be unable to maintain their dietary needs. The daily delivery
generally consists of two meals: a nutritionally balanced hot meal to eat at lunch time and
a dinner, consisting of a cold sandwich and milk along with varying side dishes. See the
Resources section below for information on finding a program in your area.
Healthy eating over 50: Tips for staying on track
Eating healthily is an ongoing commitment, but it’s easier than you think. Here are some
tips for staying on course:
Ask for help. Admit when you need a hand to shop, cook, and plan meals and find
someone to help. It’s important for your health not to revert to frozen dinners or takeout
Variety, variety, variety! Try eating and cooking something new as soon as boredom
Make every meal “do-able.” Healthy eating needn’t be a big production. Keep it simple
and you’ll stick with it. Stocking the pantry and fridge with wholesome choices will make
it easier to prepare quick, tasty meals.
Set the mealtime mood. Set the table, light candles, play music, or eat outside or by a
window when possible. Tidying yourself and your space will help you enjoy the moment.
Break habits. If you eat watching TV, try eating while reading or use the time to catch up
with your spouse or a friend. If you eat at the counter, set the table instead.
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