Regardless of your previous eating habits, it is never too late to start enjoying the benefits of healthful eating. A high-quality diet can help you stay strong in both body and mind as you age. The physical benefits of a healthful diet include increased resistance to illness, faster recuperation times, higher energy levels, and better management of chronic diseases. The mental benefits are just as important and include increased cognitive function, better stress management, and emotional balance.

Here are some basic guidelines for healthful eating as you age:

  • Choose more whole foods and fewer processed foods. Focus on food that is as close to its natural form as possible. This will guarantee that you pack as many beneficial nutrients as you can into each bite!
  • Make fruits and vegetables a major part of your diet and choose from a variety of colors. Different colors indicate different nutrients, so aim for a rainbow! Fruits and vegetables are also an excellent source of fiber.

Different colors indicate different nutrients, so aim for the rainbow!

  • Choose "good carbohydrates" that are high in fiber and low in sugar. They will help you feel full and give you longer-lasting energy than the "white stuff." Look for whole grain as the first ingredient when shopping for bread, cereal, crackers, and pasta. Other whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, oats, and popcorn.
  • Include a good protein source at each meal and snack. Older adults often struggle to get enough protein, which is important for reducing muscle loss. Choose from a variety of protein sources, including both animal and plant based. Options include beans, peas, lentils, cheese, yogurt, milk, eggs, fish, lean beef, chicken, and peanut butter.
  • Enjoy good fats that protect your heart and brain. Foods sources include nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, salmon, and tuna.
  • Older adults need 1,200 mg of calcium per day to maintain bone health, which you can get through milk, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese. Non-dairy sources include fortified soy milk, fortified cereal, tofu, leafy greens, and soybeans.
  • Watch your sodium intake, the bulk of which is usually consumed through processed foods like frozen meals and other convenience items. Aiming for a minimally processed diet will automatically help you reduce your sodium intake. Look for no, low, or reduced sodium versions of foods, especially canned goods. Add less salt when cooking and take the salt shaker off the table!
  • If you are on a limited budget, rest assured that you can still eat healthfully. You can buy everything you need at a standard grocery store. Shop with a list and focus on buying minimally-processed, high-quality foods. If you do that, your dollar will stretch farther when it comes to nutrition-per-bite.
  • Try not to skip meals, which can cause you to feel sluggish and make poor choices later in the day. Even if you don't feel like preparing food and/or eating much, have a small, healthful snack like an apple with peanut butter or yogurt with some nuts and fruit.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day. As we age, our sense of thirst is diminished and we risk dehydration. If you need a reminder to drink, keep a water bottle with you at all times and post reminders around the house to keep sipping!
  • Make eating as enjoyable as possible by sharing meals with others and trying new foods and flavors. Eating should be a pleasurable event that you can enjoy all throughout your life!

Green Bean and Pasta Salad

4 ounces penne (1 1/4 cups)
4 ounces green beans, halved crosswise (about 1 cup)
1 cup canned red or kidney beans, rinsed
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan (2 ounces)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and black pepper

Cook the pasta according to the package directions, adding the green beans during the last 3 minutes of cooking. Drain and run under cold water to cool.

Toss the cooled pasta and green beans with the red beans, parsley, Parmesan, olive oil, lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Divide the salad between 2 containers and refrigerate for up to 1 day.

From Real Simple

Turkey or Chicken Soup

1 cup chopped, cooked turkey or chicken
Dash of pepper
1/4 chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 thinly chopped carrots
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup cooked whole grain pasta (such as bowtie, shells, macaroni, etc.) OR 1 cup cooked brown rice

Add all ingredients, except pasta or rice to pan.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook covered until vegetables are tender crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add cooked pasta or cooked rice and cook a few more minutes until pasta or rice is heated.

From University of Nebraska at Lincoln Extension