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Eating healthy is important at all ages, but for older people it is the smart thing
Nashville, Ark. – “I can’t get out to go shopping with all this (coronavirus) going on.” “It’s no fun
eating alone.” “I don’t want to cook for just me, I’ll grab something quick and that
doesn’t take much effort to prepare.” Does this sound familiar? These are just a few of the common reasons some older people
do not eat healthy meals. As more and more research is being done, the correlation
between eating healthy and being healthy is stronger than ever! Not only does eating
healthy play a role in preventing major diseases, it plays a role in mental health
and overall well-being.
Of course, eating healthy is important at all ages, but for older people it is the
smart thing to do.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends two options in choosing meal plans. One plan is to follow USDA Food Patterns
or MyPlate. Basically, this plan recommends people make half their plate fruits and
vegetables, then add in a whole grain, lean protein and a low-fat dairy. You can visit
www.choosemyplate.gov to find lots of resources to help you follow this plan. There is even a calculator
for determining how many calories you need based upon your age, gender, and activity
The second plan is the DASH Eating Plan. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches
to Stop Hypertension. Following the DASH plan can help you lower your blood pressure.
This plan follows dietary guidelines of MyPlate while replacing sodium with herbs
and spices. It helps you choose foods that are naturally low in sodium to help lower
blood pressure. You can learn more about the DASH Plan at the National Heart, Lung,
and Blood Institute website www.nhlbi.nih.gov.
Another top meal plan with consistently ranks in the top five, along with
the DASH plan, is the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean Diet encourages people
to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, including seafood two to three times a week,
replacing sodium with herbs and spices and using olive oil instead of saturated fats
to prepare food. Each of these meal plans are based on preparing foods from scratch
and moving away from prepackaged, convenience foods and avoiding “empty calorie” foods.
These are foods and drinks with a lot of calories but not many nutrients – for example,
chips, cookies, soda and alcohol.
The Howard County Cooperative Extension Service offers hands-on cooking
classes for each of these meal plans. Several requests have been made to offer a Mediterranean
Diet Cooking School. Plans are being made to conduct the program in August. This is
a tentative plan! The class will be offered at night from 5:30 to 8:30. Call the Extension
Office at 870-845-7517 if you are interested in attending.
How much you eat depends upon your activity level. For most women, choosing
a plan with about 1,600 calories is average. For women who have an active lifestyle,
they would need to eat more, about 2000 calories a day.
Men, who are not physically active, need about 2000 calories a day. If
you are active, you will need to eat more, around 2400 calories a day. Working in
the garden, exercising, physically being active working on the farm, most days of
the week, are all examples of leading an active lifestyle.
One complaint many people give as they age is food tastes different. As
you grow older, your sense of taste and smell does change. Foods may seem to have
lost their flavor. Also, medicines may change how food tastes.
Maybe some of the foods you used to eat no longer agree with you. For
example, some people become lactose intolerant as they age. Talk to your doctor. They
may be able to prescribe a different medicine or test to see if you are lactose intolerant.
Lactose-free foods are readily available at most grocery stores.
Drinking enough water is another concern of older adults. With age, you
lose some of your sense of thirst. Drink plenty of liquids, including water. Don’t
wait until you are thirsty. Get a water bottle, sip on it during the day, and refill
it a couple of times. Increase your water intake if you are relatively active, especially
while working or exercising.
Chances are your doctor has suggested increasing your fiber intake. Eating
more fiber can help to prevent stomach or intestine problems. It also helps to lower
cholesterol as well as blood sugar.
Fiber is found in dry beans and peas, fruits and vegetables (especially
those with the peelings left on), and whole grains. Become a label reader on the food
items you buy and choose those with more fiber in them. As you increase your fiber
intake, you will need to increase your water intake.
Most people get sodium by eating too much salt. The body does need sodium,
but too much can increase your blood pressure. Sodium is found in most foods, naturally
or added. Salt is added to canned and prepared foods, so purchase the lower salt versions.
Once you make the decision to reduce your sodium intake, you will find it easy to
cut back. Spices, herbs, and lemon juice add flavor without the salt.
What about cost and availability of foods, especially now? Eating healthy
on a limited budget is possible. Choose store brands over the brand name. Most store
brand foods taste the same as the higher brand name product. Buy in bulk when possible
and divide into smaller portions. Use your freezer. Divide and freeze meats into two
serving sizes. Buy a large bag of frozen vegetables and only prepare what you need
at each meal. Divide any leftovers into small serving containers, label and date,
and freeze to use within a couple of months.
Keep food safe. Older people need to take extra care to keep their food
safe to eat. As we age, we are less able to fight off infections. Bacteria is everywhere,
even in the foods you eat. The goal is to prevent the bacteria from spreading by cooking
foods properly or using food safety procedures. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods
cold. Do not cross contaminate. Use a different cutting board for cutting meats than
you use for cutting vegetables for a salad; or wash and sanitize the cutting board
before preparing the salad. Don’t depend on sniffing or tasting food to tell if it
is bad. Leftovers in the refrigerator should be used within 2 to 3 days. If in doubt,
toss it out!
Eating healthy is important at any age! If you would like more information
on what makes a healthy eating plan, check out the websites mentioned in this article,
or contact me at the Howard County Extension Service. Our office is located on the
second floor of the courthouse or you can call 870-845-7517. I’ll be glad to mail
Information for this article was adapted from the National Institute on Aging.
This recipe is easy to make, doesn’t require meat and is high in protein!
It makes 8 servings, but the recipe can easily be divided in half. For a family of
two, make for dinner and then have the leftovers for lunch the next day.
8 uncooked lasagna noodles
1 (15 ounce) carton small curd cottage cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided in half
1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
Nonstick cooking spray
1 (24 ounce) jar tomato pasta sauce, without meat
1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (2 cups shredded)
Yield: 8 servings
Nutrition information per serving: Calories – 320, Fat – 10 g, Sodium – 800 mg, Carbohydrates
– 36g, Dietary Fiber – 4g, Protein – 20g
By Jean Ince County Extension Agent - Staff ChairThe Cooperative Extension ServiceU of A System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Jean Ince County Extension Agent - Staff Chair U of A Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service 421 N. Main St, Nashville AR 71852 (870) 845-7517 firstname.lastname@example.org
The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative
action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need
materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other
appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay. The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity,
sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran
status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative
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