Older Adults Should Forget the New Year’s Diet and Embrace Healthy Eating Instead
As the new year begins, many older adults are reflecting on their lives and setting goals to become healthier. One of the most common resolutions is to eat better and possibly even drop a few pounds—a commendable goal that can improve overall well-being and reduce the risk for certain age-related health conditions. However, the challenge often lies not in setting these goals but in following through with them throughout the year and beyond.
The stumbling block for healthy weight reduction tends to be the allure of quick-fix diets that promise rapid weight loss with minimal effort. Yet, research and expert opinion consistently support the notion that such diets are seldom effective in the long term. To truly embrace a healthier lifestyle, older adults should look beyond the fad diets and focus on sustainable changes to their eating habits. Seniors should consider those changes that can help reduce the risk for health problems such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and even dementia.
Two eating plans that have garnered widespread support from nutritionists and health care professionals are the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Rather than diets, it’s more accurate to call them lifestyle approaches, as they offer frameworks for making healthier choices without restrictive calorie counting or forbidden foods.
The Mediterranean Diet: A Healthy Approach to Eating for Older Adults
The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the traditional eating patterns of people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It emphasizes:
- Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.
- Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil.
- Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
- Limiting red meat to a few times a month and eating fish and poultry at least twice a week.
- Enjoying meals with family and friends.
According to the American Heart Association, “This style of eating can play a big role in preventing heart disease and stroke and reducing risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. There is some evidence that a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil may help the body remove excess cholesterol from arteries and keep blood vessels open.”
A recent study also showed that it may reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The DASH Diet: A Balanced Path to Health for Seniors
Similarly, the DASH diet is designed to combat high blood pressure, yet it offers comprehensive health benefits. The DASH diet lowers blood pressure, helps lower the levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, helps people lose weight, and reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
This plan encourages:
• A variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
• Low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
• Lean meats, fish, and poultry.
• Nuts, beans and seeds in moderation.
• Limited amounts of fats, oils and sugary foods.
What both of these eating plans have in common is a balanced, varied and inclusive approach to nutrition. They are adaptable and culturally inclusive, making them suitable for a wide range of people. Using a combination of the two eating styles is called MIND (Mediterranean-DASH intervention for neurodegenerative delay). It provides the same benefits—including, says one recent study, a “lower risk of incident dementia in middle-aged and older adults.”
Senior Health: Lifestyle Changes Over Dieting
When older adults shift their focus from a short-term diet to long-term lifestyle changes, they foster a healthier relationship with food. This approach encourages a pattern of eating that is sustainable, enjoyable and beneficial to both their physical and mental health.
Here are some tips to implement these healthy eating habits into your lifestyle:
- Start small: Implement changes gradually to give your body and palate time to adjust.
- Plan meals: Prepare a weekly menu that incorporates elements of the Mediterranean or DASH diet.
- Cook at home: You can control the ingredients and portion sizes.
- Practice mindful eating: Pay attention to hunger cues and savor your food.
- Stay active: Complement your eating plan with regular physical activity.
Consult Your Doctor
Before starting any new eating or exercise plan, it’s vital to consult with your health care provider. They can offer personalized advice based on your current health status and long-term goals. You should always follow the plan of care prescribed by your doctor, including diet restrictions and recommendations.
How Right at Home Can Help
The older people get, the harder it can be to oversee all aspects of health and well-being. Often, seniors need encouragement and respectful supervision to make the right choices to safeguard their health. Individuals who have been prescribed an eating plan may need the helping hand a professional caregiver can provide to assist with grocery shopping and meal preparation or provide reminders and encouragement.