Healthy eating for older Americans


By Colleen Daly

Studies confirm eating well and being active can make a difference in the quality of life for older adults. The key is to get the most nutrition out of the calories consumed. As we age, we need fewer calories, but more nutrients.

Get started focusing on the foods you need.

A healthy diet is one that emphasizes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk products. It also includes high protein foods such as: beans, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs and nuts. Most of what you eat and drink should fit within one or more of these five food groups. Many low nutrient dense foods that Americans eat come from foods and beverages that provide calories but few nutrients such as desserts, sodas and candies. Added sugars and fats load these choices with extra calories you may not need. Snacks can still be included in a healthy diet such as peanut butter, whole grain crackers, low-fat cottage cheese and low-fat pudding.

Some older adults do not get the protein they need to maintain muscle mass, fight infection and recover from an accident or surgery. Chewing some high protein foods such as meat can also be a problem for older adults. Here are a few tasty tips to pump up your protein intake without upsetting your food budget or energy balance:

•Enjoy more beans.

•Make your crackers count. Spread a nut butter on crackers and it with a side soup, chili or salad.

•Mix grated low-fat cheese or extra egg whites into scrambled eggs.

•Use fat-free or low fat milk rather than water to make soup or oatmeal.

If you are trying to gain weight or struggling to not lose weight this is the time to avoid low-calorie or low-fat food items. Fat provides a lot of calories in just a few bites. A tablespoon of oil, butter or margarine has about 100 calories. Also aim for at least six meals and snacks each day. Some high calorie, high protein snack ideas are: instant pudding made with evaporated milk, fruit smoothie made with fruit and protein powder, chips with a bean dip or guacamole and a scoop of cottage cheese.

Here are some delicious, high-calorie, high-protein, easy to prepare, desserts:

High-calorie, high-protein instant pudding

1 box instant pudding mix

12 ounce can evaporated milk

½ cup whole milk

Pour the canned and the whole milk into a large bowl. Slowly pour the instant pudding mix into the milk and mix until smooth. Pour into four dishes or one large bowl. Refrigerate and serve cold.

Provides per serving: 240 calories, 33 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams protein, 9 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 470 mg sodium, 390 mg potassium, 288mg calcium.

High-calorie, high-protein gelatin dessert

½ cup hot water

1 small box gelatin dessert mix (such as Jell-O), any flavor

12 ounce can evaporated milk

Dissolve the gelatin mix in the hot water. Add the milk to the gelatin. Mix. Pour into four dishes or one large bowl. Refrigerate until set and ready to serve.

Provides per serving: 210 calories, 28 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 7 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 160 mg sodium, 290 potassium, 250 mg calcium.

Colleen Daly, MS, RD, LDN, is the dietitian at the Odd Fellows Home of MA. She can be reached at Odd Fellows Home of MA at 508-853-6687. Visit their website