You’ve been hearing your whole life how important eating well is. We all know the drill – we should really try to eat more fruits and vegetables and cut down on foods high in fats and sugars. If that were easy to do, it wouldn’t be such a common piece of advice.
When you were younger, the negative effects of eating badly may have felt distant. But as you age, the diet decisions you’ve made throughout your life increasingly start to catch up with you.
As a senior, developing better eating habits matters more than ever. Even if you’re starting late in life, it’s still worth making the commitment and doing the work to eat healthier.
Healthier eating habits will make you feel better and result in better doctor’s visits. It’s not always easy to get started, but if you manage to develop a few good habits now, it will be easier sticking with them over time.
- Cook your own meals.
Processed foods and the meals you get at restaurants are often high in unnecessary salt and sugar, but it’s easy enough not to think about or realize what you’re eating when someone else is doing the cooking. The best way to regulate your intake of different ingredients is to cook your own meals.
Making your own meals takes time, but it gives you much more power over what you eat. If you’ve spent most of your life avoiding cooking, it’s not too hard to start. Nobody today has to learn to cook from scratch. You can find loads of free recipes online, and search engines make it especially easy to identify those that meet your dietary needs.
A Google search for “high calcium low fat recipes” brings up millions of results for you to browse through – you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a number of recipes that look good to you, almost all of which have clear enough instructions for even beginner chefs to try. And whenever you find a website with recipes you like, bookmark it for later.
Not everything you read on the internet is true though, so do approach these recipes as a cynic. Sometimes websites oversell how healthy something is. Pay attention to the ingredients and any nutrition information the websites provide and use your discretion. But there are enough recipes and cooking suggestions out there, that even after ruling some options out, you should have little trouble finding something that meets your dietary needs.
Our taste buds change over time. It’s entirely possible for a person to spend most of their life thinking they hate brussels sprouts based on bad memories as a kid, only to find they actually love them when they try them again for the first time many years later. The first step to eating more fruits and vegetables is identifying which ones you like to eat.
Get a little adventurous and seek out recipes that involve fruits and vegetables you haven’t tried before, haven’t had in a long time, or haven’t eaten in those particular combinations. The more you experiment, the more you’ll figure out which healthy ingredients you’ll get the most excited to eat.
- Keep notes on what you like.
One thing that keeps many people from eating healthier is the idea that it takes all the fun out of eating. Our culture has a tendency to conflate “healthy” with dull and flavorless. That doesn’t have to be the case!
Once you get into the habit of cooking more recipes at home, you’ll start to get a feel for the types of healthy food and recipes you find genuinely tasty. Make note of the recipes you like and look for things they have in common. It could be that you love using extra garlic or that you really like recipes that mix savory and sweet flavors.
Developing better eating habits doesn’t mean forcing yourself to eat things you don’t like. But you may try a few recipes you don’t love on the path to figuring out which ones do taste great to you.
- Experiment with substitutions.
Many recipes taste just as good if you use olive oil instead of butter. Some sweet recipes work well with applesauce or honey as the sweetener instead of sugar. There’s a whole wide world of healthy substitutions you can try to make favorite recipes healthier. Not all of them will necessarily work for you, but if you give them a try, you might actually find you like some old standards better the healthier way.
- Use smaller plates and bowls.
It’s such a small thing, but research shows it makes a difference. When we use larger plates and bowls for our meals, we eat more, plain and simple. Trading out your big plates and bowls for smaller ones is an easy way to reduce your regular portion size without feeling like you’re giving anything up.
Note: This recommendation is for seniors who struggle with being overweight or the possibility of becoming so. If you or a loved one instead struggles with senior loss of appetite, then this is a tip to skip.
- Cut down on sodas – or better yet, quit entirely.
On average, people in the U.S. drink 44 gallons of soda a year. That’s a lot of sugar and empty calories. Worse, high soda consumption, even diet soda, has been linked to type two diabetes, a higher risk of heart disease, and obesity.
If you’re one of the many people in the U.S. with a soda habit, set the goal of reducing how many sodas you drink. Even better, if you’re feeling more ambitious, cut sodas out of your life entirely. Keep other drinks you like around instead, like tea or carbonated water so you have something to turn to when you want something other than water.
It may not be easy, but this one change can make a significant difference to your health.
- Commit to drinking lots of water.
You’ve probably heard the advice to drink plenty of water as often as you’ve heard the advice to eat healthy. It’s a basic need, but one that can be surprisingly hard to keep up with.
Dehydration is a real concern for seniors – people between the ages of 85 and 99 are admitted to the hospital for dehydration six times more often than other adults. The consequences for not refilling your glass at the tap often enough can be serious.
This is a relatively easy problem to fix though. Make sure you keep a large glass or bottle of water nearby throughout the day. You can even mark a bottle with time-oriented goals to give yourself extra incentive to drink throughout the day.
Also, would you believe there’s an app for that? More than one, even. If you’ve embrace the use of smartphones like many seniors have, then you can use your device to help you meet your goal of drinking more water.
The start of a new year is as good a time as any to commit to better eating habits. As a senior, you already know what you eat is important to staying healthy during your remaining years. Start taking specific steps to match your actions to that knowledge.