Making sure you and your family eat healthy is hard enough, but throw Mom or Dad into the mix, and you really have your hands full. Getting older adults to eat the right foods becomes increasingly difficult as they age. Their digestive system changes, their metabolism slows down and their appetite is affected.

Your loved one may also be dealing with emotional problems that can impact eating. If they’re lonely, they may not want to eat by themselves, and if they’re depressed, food may be the last thing on their minds. Plus, medications can also impact how foods taste and look.

Eating healthy at any age is important, and seniors are no exception. The right diet can ward off potential health problems like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, constipation and high cholesterol. A good diet also maintains energy levels and a healthy weight, which will make your loved one feel better in their day-to-day lives.

The National Institute on Aging suggests two options for seniors.

The USDA Food Guide MyPlate Plan

This diet is fairly straightforward to follow and focuses on eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. It also encourage seniors to think about what they are putting onto their plate before they dive into eating. Here are a few takeaway points from the MyPlate Plan.

  • Fill the plate with mostly fruits and vegetables
  • Make at least half of grains whole grains
  • Think about the foods that go onto your plate
  • Compare sodium levels
  • Enjoy food more but eat less

The DASH Diet

This diet includes all the key food groups but has a special focus on reducing blood pressure and eating foods that are heart healthy. This eating plan recommends the following servings for seniors.

  • 7-8 ounces of grains
  • 6 ounces or less of chicken, meat or fish
  • 4-5 servings of nuts, seeds or dried beans per week
  • 2-3 cups of milk
  • 2-2.5 cups of vegetables
  • 2-2.5 cups of fruit
  • 2 teaspoons of oil

Which is Best?

If your loved one doesn’t have any pre-existing heart problems, you will probably find the MyPlate Plan easier to follow. It doesn’t break down any specific servings but instead focuses on filling the plate with mostly fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

If your loved one is at risk for heart problems, the Dash Diet is preferable. Help them visualize what a serving is by portioning out foods ahead of time. Also talk to their doctor about a vitamin supplement that can give them extra nutrients that may be missing from their diet.