Food For Life

By Beth Wood

May 15, 2009 5 min read


Eat and drink your way to a healthy old age with these five items

Beth Wood

Creators News Service

As people get older, their dietary needs change. Most tend to be less active than when they were younger and need fewer calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University. But seniors still require as many, if not more, nutrients.

HNRCA revised the USDA's MyPyramid, an Internet-based, individualized dietary program, to better fit the needs of seniors. The Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults lists these items as crucial to a balanced diet: whole, enriched, and fortified grains and cereals, bright-colored vegetables, deep-colored fruit, low- and non-fat dairy products, dry beans and nuts, fish, poultry, lean meat, eggs; liquid vegetable oils and soft low-fat spreads. Fluid intake is also vital to good health.

The five nutritional items below offer great benefits as you get older. While they may seem to have nothing to do with each other, all fall into the categories listed above and enhance your health, especially as you age.


The eight glasses at the base of HNRCA's modified pyramid indicates that fluids are the foundation of your day. Any foods with high water content, like non-sugary juices, soups, and many fruits and vegetables, also help keep a person lubricated.

Noting that the body is 95 percent water, Massachusetts-based nurse Martha Klay has witnessed firsthand the importance of fluid intake in her work.

"The bulk of clinical dilemmas that I see have to do with dehydration," said Klay, who specializes in eldercare. "When a senior gets dehydrated, it impacts their cognition and leads to falls and fractures.

"Dehydration often causes UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections) and is a major cause of constipation," she cautioned. "It also hastens looming upper respiratory infections common in frail seniors."

Even strong seniors need to consume plenty of fluids. Because many older people lose the sensation of thirst, they often forget to drink liquids. Getting in the habit early on is a smart move.


This green leafy vegetable with the thick, bright stalk is available fresh in the summer and frozen the rest of the year. Loaded with fiber, minerals and vitamins, it promotes bone, eye and heart health. The George Manteljan Foundation's World's Healthiest food site at describes it this way: "If vegetables got grades for traditional nutrients alone, Swiss chard would be one of the vegetable valedictorians."

Preparing Swiss chard is similar to the preparation of spinach in that it needs thorough cleaning. suggests boiling rather than steaming chard to remove any bitterness. It can be used in most recipes that call for spinach, but requires a bit more cooking time.


Rich in monounsaturated fat, olive oil can lower the risk of coronary disease, protect against diseases like diabetes and colon cancer and act as an anti-inflammatory.

Switch from butter and use olive oil on bread or rolls and in sautees. According to the Mayo Clinic, all types of olive oil provide monounsaturated fat, but "extra-virgin" or "virgin" olive oils are the least processed.


The decorative cranberry is often overlooked for its nutritional value. Ironically, the bright red fruit is said to prevent dental plaque and believed to prevent UTIs, kidney infections and H. pylori infections that can lead to stomach ulcers.

"There is some evidence that daily cranberry intake may be preventative," said Klay. "The problem with cranberry juice is that is mostly sugar which can be problematic for diabetics. Often it doesn't have enough cranberry to make it effective against UTIs, thus cranberry tablets seem to be the prudent choice."

Resist the temptation to use sugar with cranberries. Instead, suggests combining them with other fruit or using a little honey or maple syrup. Dried or fresh cranberries add a tasty zing to any salad.


If you think beans are boring, consider flavorful pinto beans. Like other fiber-rich legumes, they can lower cholesterol, and, when combined with rice, corn or nuts, provide a complete protein. Pintos are also high in folic acid, potassium and magnesium. They also have a trace mineral that can detoxify sulfites, to which many people are sensitive.

Canned pinto beans contain close to the nutritional value as those cooked at home. They're delicious in any Mexican food dish, chili, stew or soup.

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