Seniors have special nutrition needs during the winter.
Winter-balanced diet tips for seniors include incorporating a variety of foods.
Older adults are at greater risk of dehydration.
Staying active and social is important for seniors in the winter.
What would it take for you to feel your best even in the dark, cold days of winter? Knowing these winter-balanced diet tips for senior citizens is the key to feeling great.
Eating foods rich in vitamins and minerals boosts the immune system and fights off colds, flu, and other winter illnesses. Plus, a healthy diet enhances your mood, increases your energy, and helps manage chronic diseases. Improve your nutrition and feel healthy and energetic in the winter with these winter-balanced diet tips for seniors.
What Is a Balanced Diet for Seniors?
A healthy balanced diet for seniors includes foods from a variety of sources that are minimally processed and have little or no added sugar, salt, or saturated fats. Try to include foods from each of these groups every day:
Fruits and vegetables: Rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
Whole grains: Choose whole-grain options such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole-wheat bread to get a healthy dose of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Lean protein: Fish, poultry, legumes, nuts, and seeds are excellent sources of protein, which is important for maintaining muscle mass and strength.
Low-fat dairy: Choose low-fat dairy options such as milk, yogurt, and cheese to get adequate calcium and vitamin D.
Healthy fats: Olive oil, avocados, and nuts are healthy fats that support heart health and brain function. Consume at least two servings of fatty fish per week or supplement with fish oil capsules.
Hydration: Drink plenty of water throughout the day, as well as other sources of fluids such as fruits and vegetables, tea and coffee, and soups and broths.
Which Diet Is Best for You?
Your ideal diet depends on your tastes, your existing health conditions, and your goals. There are a range of diet plans to meet your nutritional needs.
Here are just a couple of examples:
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, moderate consumption of fish, poultry, and dairy, and low consumption of red meat and processed foods. It is based on the traditional diet of the Mediterranean region and is shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
The Mediterranean diet is considered a healthy option for seniors. This diet is rich in nutrient-dense foods that can provide the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that older adults need to stay healthy. Moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and dairy provide seniors with important nutrients like protein, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes the use of healthy fats, such as olive oil, which is beneficial for heart health.
Whole, minimally processed foods, prepared with fresh ingredients, herbs, and spices are the basis for the Mediterranean diet. It is the perfect diet for wine lovers since it encourages consuming moderate amounts of red wine.
However, the Mediterranean diet may not provide enough energy for seniors with decreased appetite or who have high energy needs.
A sample Mediterranean meal for a 70-year-old woman could include:
Appetizer: Mixed greens salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, and feta cheese, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice
Main Course: Grilled fish (such as salmon or sea bass) served with quinoa and steamed vegetables (such as asparagus or green beans)
Dessert/Snacks: Fresh fruit, such as sliced oranges or berries
Other examples of Mediterranean diet meals include:
Greek salad with romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, bell pepper, and Kalamata olives, topped with feta cheese and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice
Whole wheat pita stuffed with hummus, tomato, cucumber, and herbs
Whole wheat pasta with vegetables and olive oil
Grilled chicken with a side of lentils and a green salad
Vegetable and bean soup with a slice of whole-grain bread
A plant-based diet emphasizes foods derived from plants, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It may also include small amounts of dairy, eggs, and other animal products, but the focus is on plant-based foods.
Eating a plant-based diet provides health benefits like reduced risk of chronic diseases and improved overall health. An additional benefit is that it’s more environmentally sustainable than a diet heavy in meat and animal products.
Maintain good health by eating a plant-based diet, since it is high in nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
You need to ensure that you are getting enough protein, since plant-based protein sources may not be as easily absorbed as animal-based protein sources. Ensure you are getting enough Vitamin B12, which is found in animal-based products and fortified plant-based alternatives.
A sample daily meal plan for a 70-year-old woman on a plant-based diet could include:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with chopped nuts, raisins, and a drizzle of maple syrup with fresh berries and a glass of almond milk
Lunch: Grilled portobello mushrooms with roasted vegetables such as bell peppers, zucchini, and eggplant; serve over quinoa and top with a tahini dressing
Dinner: Lentil and vegetable curry with cauliflower, carrots, and peas; serve with brown rice and a mixed greens salad with a lemon vinaigrette
Snacks: Fresh fruit, raw veggies, hummus, or a smoothie
The P:E Diet stands for the Protein to Energy ratio diet. This diet focuses on the ratio of protein to energy (carbohydrates and fats) in the food you eat. It is based on the idea that consuming a higher ratio of protein to energy better controls your appetite and supports weight loss.
The P:E Diet uses a calculation called a "P:E Ratio" to determine how much protein to consume relative to how many calories from carbohydrates and fats. The higher the P:E Ratio, the higher the protein intake.
“In order to improve body composition, you need to achieve higher satiety per calorie,” says Dr. Ted Naiman, the creator of the P:E plan.
Seniors may benefit from the P:E Diet as it emphasizes high-protein foods, which help maintain muscle mass and strength. This is important for maintaining mobility and independence as you age. Adequate protein intake also promotes wound healing and supports a healthy immune system.
The P:E diet aims to balance the amount of protein and energy (carbohydrates and fats) in each meal. A sample meal plan for a 70-year-old woman on the P:E diet could include:
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with spinach and tomatoes; serve with roasted sweet potatoes and avocado
Lunch: Grilled chicken breast with mixed greens salad, topped with feta cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette; serve with quinoa and sautéed vegetables
Dinner: Salmon with roasted vegetables such as asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and bell peppers; serve with wild rice
Snacks: Greek yogurt with berries and a drizzle of honey, or a hard-boiled egg with carrot sticks
Don’t Forget Hydration
As you age, dehydration becomes more of a concern. Your sense of thirst decreases, and your kidneys don’t work as efficiently as they once did.
Dehydration affects both your body and your mind. It changes your blood pressure, body temperature, and nutrient transport to the cells. Dehydration also contributes to constipation and subsequent kidney stones and bladder infections. You might notice changes in your mental health if you are dehydrated, like confusion, fatigue, and decreased cognitive function.
Seniors are at greater risk of dehydration for several reasons. Some medications cause increased urination, which can lead to dehydration as well as decrease your sense of thirst. Extreme temperatures cause you to lose more fluids through sweating, urination and respiration. And seniors with mobility issues may have difficulty accessing water or may not be able to pour a glass of water when they are thirsty.
Here are a few tips to help you stay hydrated during the winter:
Drink water regularly even if you don't feel thirsty. Try to drink at least eight glasses of water per day.
Incorporate fluids from other sources such as soups, broths, herbal teas, and fruits and vegetables.
Eat hydrating foods, such as cucumbers, watermelon, and strawberries, which are high in water content and help keep you hydrated.
Keep a water bottle handy throughout the day, whether you're at home or out and about so that you drink water whenever you need it.
Monitor urine color. A pale yellow color is a sign of good hydration, while dark yellow or amber-colored urine is a sign of dehydration.
Be mindful of medications that increase urination or decrease your sense of thirst, and be sure to drink extra fluids to make up for it.
Use a humidifier in your home, since the air inside can be very dry during the winter. A humidifier can help keep your skin and mucous membranes hydrated.
If you have mobility issues, make sure you have easy access to water and consider using a straw with your glass or water bottle.
Keep Moving in the Winter
Your diet is half of your winter health equation. The other half is exercise, to keep you strong and flexible and help you maintain a healthy weight. Exercise offers a range of benefits for your physical and mental health.
Regular physical activity can help you maintain your strength, flexibility, and balance, which reduces your risk of falls and injuries. It also improves cardiovascular health, controls blood sugar, and increases muscle mass.
Physical activity contributes to reduced feelings of depression and anxiety and improves sleep quality, which is especially important for seniors.
Many exercise classes and programs for seniors provide a social connection with others. Staying social is especially important during the winter months when many people feel more isolated.
Reducing Winter Blues
Winter months often cause feelings of depression and anxiety due to less sunlight and colder weather. Staying active combats these feelings and improves your overall well-being.
Winter Exercise Options for Seniors
Finding an exercise plan you enjoy is the key to sticking with it. There are a variety of ways for older adults to stay active during the winter months, so there’s an option for anyone.
Many gyms, community centers, and senior centers offer exercise classes designed for older adults, like yoga, tai chi, and low-impact aerobics. Choose a class that features exercises aimed at your level of fitness and abilities, and is taught by an instructor who is experienced in teaching seniors. And make sure classes provide a chance to socialize with others, which is an important benefit of your fitness program.
If the weather is mild, walking outside is an invigorating exercise that’s good for your heart and lungs and easy on your joints. When it's too cold or icy to walk outside, many malls and shopping centers are open to the public for walking. Enjoy walking either solo or with a friend.
Many community centers have indoor swimming pools and classes for beginning to advanced swimmers. Swimming is a great low-impact option that’s beneficial for seniors with arthritis or other conditions that make weight-bearing exercise difficult.
Grab some dumbbells and resistance bands, or just use your own body weight, and build essential strength at home or in a senior center. Strength training improves muscle strength and tone and increases bone density. Plus, it improves balance and reduces the risk of falls.
If you live in an area with snow and you are already active and fit, you might enjoy cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. You’ll get a workout for your heart, lungs, and muscles, along with a bracing dose of fresh, crisp winter air. Snow activities can be challenging for older adults, so start slowly and progress gradually, and use appropriate equipment like poles and shoes with good traction.
Feel Your Best All Winter With a Healthy Diet
Maybe you’re intimidated by the idea of making changes to your diet and exercise routines, but habits that make you feel great are easier to stick with.
Improve your diet and health one small step at a time–add a vegetable to each meal, sip from a water bottle throughout the day, and add a few more steps to your usual route.
You’ll enjoy good health and a good mood, a worthwhile payback for your efforts.