As you get older, you might notice that your body is changing. You may not have as much muscle as you used to have. You may not burn as many calories as you did when you were younger, especially if you aren’t very physically active. If you don’t want to gain weight, you may need to eat fewer calories than you ate when you were younger. This means that you need to eat foods that are high in nutrients to give your body the energy it needs to work well.
Carrying extra weight can be dangerous. People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and bone problems.
You may also become underweight as you age. This can be concerning, because it might be a sign of illness. It may also mean that you may not have enough to eat or that you’re not eating enough foods that are high in nutrients.
“Healthy weights” are different for every person, so ask your healthcare provider what weight is healthy for you. Healthy weights are often determined by two measures: Body Mass Index (BMI) and measuring around your waist.
- BMI is a measure of weight in relation to height. While a BMI score of 18.5 to 24.9 usually indicates a healthy weight for adults, the BMI is limited in how well it gauges body fat in older people or those who have lost muscle.
- Measuring around your waist may tell you if you carry extra fat. A waist circumference of more than 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men indicates increased risk for a number of health problems.
Older adults don’t need to eat as many calories as they did when they were younger, but they still need to eat just as many nutrients. Foods that are high in nutrients contain a lot of vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients your body needs.
To include more foods that are high in nutrients in your diet, you should choose to eat:
- fruits and vegetables (choose a range of types with vibrant colors)
- whole grains, like oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, and brown rice
- fat-free or low-fat milk and cheese, or soy or rice milk that is fortified with vitamin D and calcium
- seafood, lean meats, poultry, and eggs
- beans, nuts, and seeds
You should eat less of foods that have high calories but don’t have many nutrients. These foods include:
- sugar-sweetened drinks and desserts that have added sugars
- foods with butter, shortening, or other fats that are solid at room temperature
- white bread, rice, and pasta made from refined grains
Following a Healthy Eating Plan
There are steps that you can take to follow a healthy eating plan that fits your weight, budget, and dietary needs.
One part of a healthy eating plan is to control portion sizes. A portion size is how much of a food you eat at one sitting. Many people eat much more food than they need, especially if they go out to eat. To watch your portion sizes, try:
- Avoiding eating in front of the TV, computer, or other screens. You may not notice how much you are eating if you are distracted.
- Reading the Nutrition Facts label found on food and drink packages to see how many calories and how much fat are in a single serving size of an item.
- Cooking ahead and freezing portions for days when you don't want to cook.
- Keeping frozen or canned vegetables, beans, and fruits on hand for quick and healthy meal add-ons. Rinse canned foods to remove extra salt. Drain juice and syrup from canned fruit to remove extra sugar.
- Eating often with someone you enjoy. If you can't cook for yourself, contact a local program that delivers meals.
You may need to speak with your healthcare provider or dentist if
- You find chewing difficult, don't want to eat, or have trouble with your dentures.
- You feel that life events such as the death of a loved one or moving from your home are keeping you from eating well.
- You think your medicines may be making your food taste bad or affecting your appetite.
- You think you should take a daily vitamin like iron or vitamin C.
For more ways to add healthy eating and physical activity into your lifestyle, see these Health Tips for Older Adults from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.