Why is nutrition important for older adults?

As we age, the importance of the food we put into our bodies should never be taken lightly. In fact, proper nutrition could be the difference between life and death for some seniors with chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease. March is National Nutrition Month® and this is a great time to ensure older people have the right information about appropriate food choices and how proper nutrition impacts health.

Nutrition is about eating a healthy and balanced diet so your body gets the nutrients that it needs. Nutrients are substances in foods that our bodies need so they can function. Nutrients include carbohydratesfatsproteinsvitaminsminerals and water. Proper nutrition helps lower the risk of developing a chronic disease or helps you keep your condition in check if you already have one. Eating properly can also help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

What’s on your plate?

If you’re not sure about whether you’re following a healthy diet or not, take a look at what’s on your plate during meals. Do the proportions of meat surpass those of the grains or vegetables? Are there lots of colorful veggies on your plate or is it mostly carbohydrate and meat browns and beiges? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) developed MyPlate as a tool to help people better understand nutrition and easily develop good eating habits.

Ideally, half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables followed by healthy grains and lean sources of protein such as poultry, fish, beans or peas. Try to think of meat as a garnish instead of the centerpiece of a meal. MyPlate can provide a plan with custom recommendations about foods based on your age and other characteristics. However, the USDA also lists general recommendations on intake from five food categories. Below are recommended daily amounts for older adult age groups.

Food GroupMen age 31-59Men age 60+Women age 31-59Women age 60+
Fruits2 to 2½ cups2 cups1½ to 2 cups1½ to 2 cups
Vegetables3 to 4 cups2½ to 3½ cups2 to 3 cups       2 to 3 cups
Grains /
Whole Grains
7 to 10 oz /
3½ to 5 oz
6 to 9 oz /
3 to 4½ oz
5 to 7 oz /
3 to 3½ oz
5 to 7 oz /
3 to 3½ oz
Protein6 to 7 oz5½ to 6½ oz5 to 6 oz5 to 6 oz
Dairy3 cups3 cups3 cups3 cups
Improve your mealtimes

Sometimes, as we age, food may become less appealing and eating regular meals may feel like an unenjoyable chore. Also, changes to our sense of taste and smell or dental health can contribute to meals having less appeal than when we were younger or becoming more difficult to chew. If you’re finding that food is starting to lose its flavor or tastes different to you, try adding more herbs and spices. If you are experiencing dental problems that make eating difficult, try eating softer foods like pureed fruits, vegetables and meats. To add nutrients, you could also supplement your meals with healthy smoothies blended with fresh fruits or leafy vegetables.

If you live by yourself and don’t like to eat alone, invite a friend or loved one to have meals with you. If your community offers meals at senior centers, that could be an option to help make your mealtimes a more social experience. You will also have a chance to make new acquaintances. Meals on Wheels also provides free meals and a friendly visit for seniors all over the nation. You can search for a provider near you here.

It’s never too late to make positive changes to your lifestyle. Learning more about healthy nutrition this month is a small step toward helping your body function better and improving your overall well-being.

Capitol Hill Cares

At Capitol Hill Healthcare, we believe that balanced nutrition is important for the well-being of our residents. Our registered dietician and dietary manager plan meals and therapeutic diets to support our residents’ overall health and quality of life.