Lifestyle & Management

Healthy Eating

A healthy diet can help you avoid malnutrition as you age. This is important because, when you get older, you may not need as many calories as you did when you were younger. On average, older adults only need about 1,600 calories a day. Calories need to come from foods that are extra rich in nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fluids.

Healthy eating can help if you have certain diseases, such as dementia, depression, heart disease, bone health problems or diabetes. Check with your healthcare professional about the best nutrition for you.

  • The Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fish, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, nuts and seeds, is linked to better cognitive health (ability to think and remember). This diet is also linked to less heart disease and better quality of life.

On a Daily Basis

Older adults should try to eat:

  • Enough protein. Older adults may need more than younger ones. At least 2 servings of meats, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, or beans a day will help.
  • Fiber to keep your digestion regular and help lower your cholesterol. Five servings of whole grains like whole wheat bread, old-fashioned oatmeal, and brown rice will help. Avoid processed foods like white bread, or instant or sugary cereals.
  • Seeds, and nuts. They are nutritious and have healthy fats.
  • Fruits and vegetables. Five services will help an older adult get enough vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
  • Non-fat or low-fat dairy products (2-4 servings a day), especially if you have osteoporosis (thinning of the bones).
  • Healthy fats, like those found in olive oil and avocados. Healthy fats are liquid at room temperature. Avoid saturated fats and cholesterol often found in high fat dairy products to help keep your heart healthy.

Ensure Adequate Amounts of Vitamin and Minerals

Older adults often do not get enough of these vitamins and minerals. Common shortages are:

  • Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.
  • Iron, which may be necessary for healthy blood. Take it with foods with vitamin C.
  • Calcium, which helps preserve bones. It’s best if you get your daily 1200 mg of calcium comes from food. Foods that are calcium rich include: dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach or kale, or fatty fish like canned sardines or salmon.
  • Vitamin B12, which helps memory and movement. Eat foods high in B12 such as cereals with vitamins added, lean meat, and some fish and seafood.
  • Potassium, magnesium and sodium. If you take blood pressure or heart medications, you may need more of these nutrients. Good sources include fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk, and yogurt.

Drink Fluids

Staying hydrated helps to keep your kidneys and digestion working well. Drink 5-8 glasses of water or other liquids each day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. You may need to drink more fluids if you have a fever or an infection, or if you take diuretics (water pills) or laxatives. 

Consider Supplements

Supplements are dietary aids that can make it easier for older adults to get extra nutrients. Supplements can be nutritional drinks, bars, cookies, or powders that can be added to drinks and foods. These supplements should not replace regular meals. Use them as snacks between meals.

The best way to make sure you get important vitamins and minerals is to eat at least 5 servings a day of brightly colored green, orange, and yellow vegetables such as broccoli, kale, spinach, carrots, and squash.

If you are taking any herbal or alternative products, tell your healthcare professional know. Some of these products can affect your medicines or food and cause serious consequences.

Focus on Quality, Timing, and Frequency of Meals

  • Make food more attractive and flavorful. For example, add spices and eat colorful food.
  • Fix any problems in your mouth, such as infected teeth, jaw problems, or poorly fitting dentures.
  • If arthritis is a problem, use specially designed utensils to eat.
  • Problems digesting milk-based foods may require avoiding them or using special dairy products made for people with “lactose Intolerance.”
  • Problems digesting gluten can prevent people from eating many foods, such as bread and pasta made from wheat. Note that not all grains contain gluten. There are many gluten-free choices, such as oatmeal and quinoa.
  • Treat swallowing problems. A healthcare professional often, can recommend simple approaches that can help.

Learn more about healthy eating as you age at the U.S. National Institute on Aging’s nutrition website  and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s healthy eating website.

Counseling can help older people to eat well. You can find a registered dietitian in your area by visiting the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Special Risks

  • People with financial problems may not be able to eat healthy diets because of their cost. They may also have few good food choices near where they live. Governmental food programs may help. Look into local food pantries or other city/town resources.
  • Cultures, religions, and certain diets can affect food choices. For example, some Asian diets are high in salt. Some religions require fasting. Some diets are meat focused.
  • A nutritionist can help you find a healthy diet that fits your preferences and medical conditions.  You can also find culturally appropriate diets at  Oldways , nonprofit that promotes healthy eating by region of the country and for differing cultures.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are using any supplements or herbal mixtures. Many of them can interact with other medications, with serious or even life-threatening consequences. For example:
    • Vitamin A in large doses can cause bone problems
    • Vitamin B6 in large doses can damage nerves
    • Many herbal remedies can be toxic


Last Updated January 2023

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