Eldery couple making healthy salad in their kitchen

Good nutrition is important at any age. But it is especially important for older adults. Eating a healthy diet helps keep your body strong. And it can help lower your risk for disease.

As you get older, your nutrition needs change. Your body needs more of certain nutrients. These include vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin D. But it may be harder for you to get these and other important nutrients. This could be for many reasons. You may not feel as hungry as you used to. Or you could have problems with your teeth or mouth that make it hard to chew. Or you may not enjoy planning and preparing meals, especially if you live alone.

Now that you need to get all your nutrients from less food, it is important to plan what you eat. The suggestions below can help you get the nutrition you need. If you still need help, talk with your doctor. He or she may recommend that you work with a dietitian who can help you plan meals.

How can an older adult use good nutrition to stay healthy?

To stay healthy

  • Eat a variety of foods. The more you vary the foods you eat, the more vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you get.
  • Take a multivitamin every day. Choose one with about 100% of the daily value (DV) for vitamins and minerals. Do not take more than 100% of the daily value for any vitamin or mineral unless your doctor tells you to. Talk with your doctor if you are not sure which multivitamin is right for you.
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Fresh, frozen, or no-salt canned vegetables and fruits in their own juice or light syrup are good choices.
  • Include foods that are high in vitamin B12 in your diet. Good choices are fortified breakfast cereal, nonfat or low-fat milk and other dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.
  • Get enough calcium and vitamin D. Good choices include nonfat or low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt. Other good options are tofu, orange juice with added calcium, and some leafy green vegetables, such as collard greens and kale. If you don’t use milk products, talk to your doctor about calcium and vitamin D supplements.
  • Eat protein foods every day. Good choices include lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and cheese. Other good options are cooked beans, peanut butter, and nuts and seeds.
  • Choose whole grains for half of the grains you eat. Look for 100% whole wheat bread, whole-grain cereals, brown rice, and other whole grains.

If you have constipation

  • Eat high-fiber foods every day. These include fruits, vegetables, cooked dried beans, and whole grains.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Ask your doctor if stool softeners may help keep your bowels regular.

If you have mouth problems that make chewing hard

  • Pick canned or cooked fruits and vegetables. These are often softer.
  • Chop or shred meat, poultry, and fish. Add sauce or gravy to the meat to help keep it moist.
  • Pick other protein foods that are soft. These include cheese, peanut butter, cooked beans, cottage cheese, and eggs.

If you have trouble shopping for yourself

  • Ask a local food store to deliver groceries to your home.
  • Contact a volunteer center and ask for help.
  • Ask a family member or neighbor to help you.

If you have trouble preparing meals

  • If you are able, take a cooking class.
  • Use a microwave oven to cook TV dinners and other frozen or prepared foods.
  • Take part in group meal programs. You can find these through senior citizen programs.
  • Have meals brought to your home. Your community may offer programs that deliver meals, such as Meals on Wheels.

If your appetite is poor

  • Try eating smaller amounts of food more often. For example, eat 4 or 5 small meals a day instead of 1 or 2 large meals.
  • Eat with family and friends. Or take part in group meal programs offered through volunteer programs. Eating with others may help your appetite. And it helps you be more social.
  • Ask your doctor if your medicines could cause appetite or taste problems. If so, ask about changing medicines.
  • Add spices and herbs to increase the flavor of food.
  • If you think you are depressed, ask your doctor for help. Depression can affect your appetite. And it can make it hard to do everyday activities like grocery shopping and making meals. Treatment can help.