Health Advice



Nutrition News: Dietary Decline

Charlyn Fargo on

As we age, we need fewer calories, yet we need those calories we eat to be of higher quality. But older adults in the U.S. seem to be losing that battle.

A recent study in JAMA Network Open found the number of adults aged 65 and older in the U.S. with a poor diet quality increased from 51% to 6% from 2001 to 2018, while the percentage of those who had an ideal diet remained low at 0.4%. The proportion of those with intermediate diet quality significantly decreased from 49% to 39%.

Participants included a total of 10,837 adults ages 65 or older who completed a 24-hour dietary recall several times over the years of the study. Researchers scored diet quality using the American Heart Association Diet Score and the Healthy Eating Index.

Researchers said older adults ate more processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages and foods with sodium, while intake of fruits and vegetables, fish and whole grains decreased.

There may be a lot of reasons for that dietary decline -- income levels, losing a spouse, depression -- but this national trend is one we should all be concerned about. Poor diet quality is a major risk factor for chronic diseases, disability, frailty and death among older adults. It's predicted that the number of adults aged 65 years or older will more than double by 2060, accounting for nearly a fourth of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

We know a healthy diet is crucial for all of us, but especially for older adults to maintain physical and mental health.


Here's the good news: It's never too late to start eating healthy, no matter your age. Can you add some berries to your oatmeal or cereal? Snack on roasted chickpeas instead of chips? Cook at home more instead of going out? Try adding two vegetables to your evening meal instead of one? Drink a bottle of water with your morning meds to start your day?

When in doubt, throw some color on your plate -- bright greens from crunchy vegetables or vibrant reds from tangy fruit -- to give a healthy boost. Pack your lunch to control portion sizes and add fruits and vegetables.

Choose foods with less sodium and less sugar. Rinse canned foods or choose "no salt added". Buy fresh poultry, seafood and lean cuts of red meat and pork rather than processed meat and poultry. When it comes to sugar, flavor your low-fat plain yogurt with fresh fruit instead of purchasing flavored yogurt and choose fresh fruit as an after-dinner treat. Reduce your consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by drinking water flavored with fruit.

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