Nutrition Article:

Good Nutrition Makes Sense for Older Adults

by Mary Podrabsky, CD, RD

Just when you're sure that margarine is better for you than butter, you hear about something called trans-fatty acids. And what the heck are antioxidants? Exactly how are you supposed to get them? Maybe you should just take a vitamin tablet and forget it.

It's not surprising that people find the barrage of nutrition information in the media confusing and hard to follow. However, you can make a difference in your health by making common sense changes in your diet.

As people age, the quality of their diets becomes more important than ever. Good nutrition is vital for everything from healthy eyes to an immune system that can fight infections, from having high energy to preventing heart disease.

The Healthy Aging Partnership - a coalition of 28 not-for-profit and public health and senior service organizations in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties - has some important tips to help seniors live healthier and still enjoy good food.

Think color.

The more colorful your diet, the more disease-fighters you're eating. Aim for at least three colors on your plate at every meal. Try one new fruit or vegetable every week and try to eat at least five total servings of fruits and/or vegetables every day. Purée fresh or frozen berries to put on ice cream, yogurt or angel food cake. Choose whole grain breads over white bread or bagels. Eat tomatoes every chance you get.

Enjoy special foods you love - in moderation.

Bake your favorite pie, cake or cookies, freeze a few portions for later, and give the rest away. Measure a single portion of snack foods and desserts before you eat them. Enhance flavors by adding small amounts of feta and Parmesan cheese, olive oil, black pepper, fresh herbs, garlic and lemon.

Eat more fish.

Just 2 ounces of fish a day can reduce the risk of heart attack by 40 to 60 percent in people already at risk for heart disease. The fatty acids in fish also may offer benefits for people with hypertension, arthritis and diabetes.

Move meat out of the starring role.

Focus instead on building your meals around fruits, vegetables and whole grains like bulgur, whole grain rice, barley and quinoa.

Make the best choices for fats and oils.

Switch from stick margarine to a spread that is free from trans-fatty acids. Save butter for special occasion recipes. Opt for olive or canola oil, and use them sparingly.

Pay attention to calcium and Vitamin D.

Older adults need 1,200 mg per day of calcium. Include in your daily diet calcium-fortified orange juice and low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and talk with your doctor about a calcium supplement that contains Vitamin D.

Take a multivitamin-mineral supplement.

Pick one that does not exceed 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for any nutrient. Talk with your doctor to make sure you pick one that is appropriate for your needs.

Above all, remember to enjoy food.

Healthy eating is flexible and may vary with your schedule, emotions, hunger level and overall health at any given time. Incorporate healthy habits over time. Small and sustained changes are what matter in the long run.

For more information on nutritional eating - or if you need access to programs like Meals on Wheels or volunteer chore services - call the Healthy Aging Partnership at 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464) or visit the Web site at

HAP and 1-844-348-KING are generously supported by HAP partner agencies, Puget Sound Energy and the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation.