Eating a well-balanced diet is important at any age, but even more so as we become older, in order to maintain our health, feel good, and have energy. A balanced meal consists of a variety of foods from the four main food groups (vegetables and fruit, grain products, milk and alternatives, and meat and alternatives), and less of foods not categorized in these groups. A healthy diet must provide the six essential nutrients: fat, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, and water. According to Canada’s Food Guide, a well-balanced diet can help reduce the risk of developing conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and osteoporosis. Fibre also plays a large role in our diet and well-being.
Food preparation is equally as important. Overcooking food destroys nutrients and affects the taste quality which in turns affects appetite. Without an appetite, many seniors are not motivated to eat and therefore miss out on these much needed nutrients.
The first essential nutrient is fat. Great sources of healthy fats include fish, unsalted nuts, avocados, and vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, and olive oil. Healthy fats reduce the risk of heart disease and can help lower cholesterol levels.
Vitamins and minerals perform many roles in the body. Eating a healthy diet is the best way to get sufficient amounts of the vitamins and minerals needed to maintain body system functions, heal wounds, and boost our immune system. They also convert food into energy. Calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, and B vitamins are only a few of many. Calcium and Vitamin D help maintain bone health. These can be found in milk, yogurt, fruit juice, and green vegetables. Vitamin C and all of the B vitamins are water soluble meaning the body can only store a limited amount. As a result, we need to continuously replenish them with our diet.
Sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure. Frozen and processed foods are usually extremely high in sodium. In general, the less processing food receives the healthier it is. The same rule applies to sugar; natural sweeteners and less refined sugars are better.
Healthy carbohydrates —such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products — provide your body with the fuel your heart, lungs, and other organs need to function properly. They deliver essential vitamins and minerals and help provide the energy you needto walk another block or climb a few more steps. Many healthy carbs are also important sources of fibre.
Protein helps repair and build muscles; it can help you heal after surgery or illness. The best sources of protein are eggs, lean meat, fish, poultry, nuts and legumes, and low-fat dairy.
Fibre is important for our overall health. Benefits of fibre include controlling blood sugar, managing blood pressure, reducing blood cholesterol, increasing the feeling of being full, controlling weight, and regulating bowel movement. Great sources of fibre include fruits and vegetables with the skin, whole grains, flax seed, and popcorn.
As we grow older, our metabolism slows down, so we need fewer calories than before. Our bodies also need higher amounts of certain nutrients, therefore it is more important than ever to choose foods with the best nutritional value.