Nutrition Article:

Eating healthy as we age doesn’t have to bust the food budget

Eating well on a budget can be challenging, especially for older adults living on a fixed income. But cost-conscious grocery shoppers don't have to skimp on nutrition.

As we age, healthy eating habits become even more important. That's because good nutrition can help prevent health problems more likely to crop up later in life, like osteoporosis, diabetes and heart disease.

The Healthy Aging Partnership, a coalition of more than 30 Puget Sound not-for-profit and public organizations dedicated to the health and well-being of older adults, offers these suggestions to help ensure that seniors get the nutrition they need without blowing their grocery budgets.

  • Plan meals and snacks ahead of time and make your shopping list as you plan. Using a list when shopping can save you money by preventing impulse buying.
  • Use low-cost foods such as beans, lentils, rice and pasta as the foundation of your meals. Choose to eat meatless meals several times a week. You will still get adequate protein if you combine pastas, beans or rice with a variety of vegetables. Eggs are another low cost source of protein.
  • Frozen vegetables and fruits canned in water are less expensive than fresh and provide the same nutrients.
  • Most seniors don't get enough calcium, so be sure to include low cost foods that are rich in calcium such as low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, canned fish and dark leafy greens such as mustard and collards. Some soy milk is also fortified with calcium if you prefer this to cow's milk.
  • Shop for foods labeled "low-fat" or "fat-free" and look for grocery store brands instead of national or name brand products, which are usually more expensive. Low-fat foods must contain less than three grams of fat per serving. Light foods must contain one-third fewer calories than the regular version. Remember to check calories, too. Fat-free or low-fat doesn't necessarily mean low-calorie. Fat-free foods often contain large amounts of added sugars or sodium to make up for the flavor that's lost when the fat is cut.
  • Try to eat at a minimum, 10 different foods every day. Choose foods from each of the groups that make up the Food Guide Pyramid, which promotes a diet that is rich in plant foods, such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and low in fat and sugar.
  • Think color when planning meals and snacks. Colorful fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and nutrients that help keep you healthy, reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease, and protect against the effects of aging.
  • Don't forget about fluids. As we age, our thirst sensation diminishes so we aren't aware that we are dehydrated. Caffeine in drinks like coffee, tea and many sodas actually dehydrates the body. Six to eight glasses of water a day is a reasonable goal for most adults.
  • Senior congregate meals can help stretch your food dollar by offering a balanced meal at little or no cost. Find out about senior centers in your area that offer breakfasts or lunches in group settings.
  • Apply for the Washington Basic Food Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program) to supplement your food budget. Depending on your income, you may qualify for up to $115 a month.

If you have questions about nutrition, where to find a congregate meal site near you, how to apply for food stamps or any other issue related to life as an older adult, call the Healthy Aging Partnership's free and confidential information and assistance line at 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464).

HAP is generously supported by its partner agencies, Public Health Seattle & King County and the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation.