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Healthy Habits

If you've avoided healthy eating habits for most of your life, it's time to make a change. Even seniors — especially seniors, in fact — need to focus on nutrition and healthy eating to prevent health problems. Developing healthy eating habits means more than just choosing the right foods, though that's an important start. Calorie counting and portion control should be part of your strategy, too.

Why the Senior Diet Should Be Different

Your diet and nutrition needs change as you get older, and healthy eating becomes more important than ever. Aging alters many of your body's processes and functions, affecting how your body uses food, and how much you need.

For starters, your metabolism slows down. Your body doesn't process or use food as quickly, and you just don't need as much. The digestive system also changes for seniors — with your intestines becoming a little more rigid and food moving through more slowly. Changing emotional needs may also affect some seniors' diets: If you feel lonely, sad, or depressed, you may be more likely to eat too little or to dig into a bowl of ice cream or a bag of chips for comfort.

Senior Nutrition Tip: Practice Portion Control

Portion control trips up people of all ages. It's tough to avoid huge portions when they're everywhere — in restaurants, grocery stores, and even on your plate at home. When was the last time you ate a piece of meat that was only the size of a deck of playing cards? Most people eat several times that, but that's all a serving size, or a healthy portion, really is.

So whether it's pasta, rice, meat, or veggies, how do you know what a serving size actually is? Use these approximations to help you figure it out:

  • 1/2 cup of ice cream is about the size of a tennis ball.
  • 1 serving of cheese is about the equivalent of six playing dice.
  • 1 serving of fruit or veggies is about the size of a baseball.
  • 1/4 cup of dried nuts or fruits is about the size of a golf ball.
  • 1 baked potato should only be about the size of a computer mouse.
  • 1 serving of waffles or pancakes is about the diameter of a DVD.

Most serving sizes are labeled in ounces, so invest in a food scale to measure your portions. Once you get used to how little portion sizes really are, you'll be better able to figure out what's appropriate.

Senior Nutrition Tip: Count Those Calories

Once you adjust your portion sizes, the amount of calories you consume will automatically be lower. But you still have to pay attention to foods that are high in calories and avoid or limit them.

Also, be sure to adjust your calorie intake if your activity level changes. Women over age 50 need between 1,600 and 2,200 calories daily. Men over 50 need between 2,000 and 2,800 calories daily. If you have a more sedentary life, your calorie needs fall at the low end of the range, while an active person should aim for the top of the range.

Next, it's time to pay attention to how many calories are in each of those portions that you're now working so hard to control. Add them up, and keep a running total of how many calories you have eaten in a given day. If you really want an ice cream snack, then swap out some calories from another meal to stay within your calorie allowance for the day.

Senior Nutrition Tip: Avoid Diet Sabotage

Unfortunately, it doesn't take much to derail your healthy eating efforts before they become habits. Try these tips to keep you on course with healthy eating:

  • Have healthy, easy-to-eat foods on hand all the time; that way they're ready and within reach when you're tempted to snack or indulge.
  • Stay away from salty, fatty, and sugary foods; they'll just trigger your craving for more.
  • Drink plenty of water because dehydration can trick you into thinking that you're hungry for unhealthy food. Skip sodas, tea, and coffee, which don't quench your thirst.
  • Keep stress under control.
  • Eat regularly to keep yourself from getting too hungry and splurging on junk.
  • Cook more food than you need for a meal, and freeze the rest for leftovers. Heat them up when you're too tired to fix something healthy.
  • Make healthy food taste delicious by making it more flavorful. Season your meal with garlic, vegetable oils, onions, or vinegar instead of salt.

It's all about making a commitment, and the sooner you start the easier it will be. So go ahead and disprove that adage about old dogs and new tricks by changing your eating habits today.

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