The Mediterranean diet is one of the most recommended diets, particularly because of its health benefits.
This makes it especially useful for older adults and the elderly. However, certain factors factor in more if you’re older.
This article will cover important considerations for those over 50 starting a Mediterranean diet.
Eat Sufficient Protein
Protein is a crucial nutrient for maintaining muscle mass, supporting bone health, and facilitating various bodily functions.
As people age, maintaining muscle mass becomes increasingly important to counteract age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia). Including adequate protein in the diet is therefore essential.
When following a Mediterranean diet, lean protein sources such as fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, and dairy products should be consumed regularly.
Older individuals may even benefit from slightly higher protein intake to support muscle maintenance and recovery from exercise.
Control Calorie and Portion Sizes
While the Mediterranean diet is known for its health benefits, it’s important to remember that portion control and calorie balance are still crucial, especially for individuals over 50 who may have a slower metabolism.
Consuming excessive calories can lead to weight gain and increase the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and joint problems.
To maintain a healthy weight, it is recommended to be mindful of portion sizes and adjust them according to individual needs.
Including a variety of nutrient-dense foods and practicing moderation in the consumption of higher-calorie items, such as nuts, oils, and olives, can help maintain a balanced calorie intake.
Ensure Adequate Nutrient Intake
As we age, our bodies may require higher levels of certain nutrients to support overall health.
It is important to ensure adequate intake of key vitamins and minerals when following a Mediterranean diet. Nutrients that need more focus as we get older include:
- Calcium and vitamin D: Aging can lead to a higher risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. These are vital for maintaining bone health. Dairy products, such as Greek yogurt and cheese, can be included in the diet to provide these nutrients. Incorporating calcium-rich plant-based sources like almonds, sesame seeds, and leafy greens can also be beneficial.
- Vitamin B12: Older people are more likely to get vitamin B12 deficiencies. This is because it is absorbed from food from stomach acid, but stomach acid declines with age. Including lean meats, fish, eggs, or fortified foods can help meet the recommended intake.
- Potassium: Adequate potassium intake helps lower blood pressure by counteracting the effects of sodium and maintaining a healthy heart rhythm. Furthermore, potassium helps preserve bone health by reducing calcium loss, thus decreasing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. These issues are more likely to affect older adults. Foods rich in potassium include bananas (learn how to ripen bananas with this handy guide), oranges, avocados, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, beans, lentils, and nuts.
Eat Plenty of Omega-3 Fats
Omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with heart and brain health, which are particularly important for the elderly.
For example, one study found lower levels of DHA in the brain, one of the important omega-3 fats, was associated with smaller brain size, a sign of accelerating brain aging (1).
Consuming fatty fish (salmon, sardines), walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and extra virgin olive oil can help increase omega-3 fatty acid intake.
Proper hydration is essential at any age, but it becomes increasingly important as we get older.
Adequate fluid intake helps maintain optimal bodily functions, supports digestion, and prevents dehydration, which can be more common among older individuals.
While the Mediterranean diet encourages the consumption of water-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, it is crucial to prioritize regular water intake throughout the day.
Water should be your primary drink for the best hydration. Other drinks may increase your calorie intake and in excess amounts, cause you to lose weight.
Be Mindful of Exercise
Physical activity plays a significant role in overall health, particularly for individuals over 50.
Regular exercise can help maintain muscle mass, improve bone density, enhance cardiovascular health, and support weight management.
In particular, it can help increase your calorie expenditure and help you stay at a good weight.
When following a Mediterranean diet, combining it with a balanced exercise routine can maximize its benefits.
Engaging in a combination of aerobic exercises, strength training, and flexibility exercises is ideal. Aerobic exercise can help promote heart health whilst strength training can reduce muscle loss (sarcopenia).
Fiber for Digestive Health
Fiber is an essential component of a healthy diet, aiding digestion, regulating bowel movements, and promoting a feeling of fullness.
For older individuals, maintaining proper digestive health becomes increasingly important due to potential age-related changes in bowel function.
The Mediterranean diet, abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, naturally provides a good amount of dietary fiber.
Including a variety of these fiber-rich foods can help prevent constipation, promote a healthy gut microbiome, and support overall digestive well-being.
Don’t Have the Budget? Try These Tips
Sometimes, it’s just about money.
Particularly if you’re on a fixed income, it can be challenging to afford the right foods to cater to all the nutritional requirements.
Just because you don’t have a big budget, it doesn’t mean you can’t follow Mediterranean-style eating. Try these tips if you’re conscious of your budget:
- Eat more beans and legumes than meat: Legumes can be stored for a long time and are a cheap and plentiful source of plant-based protein.
- Choose frozen fruit and vegetables: Frozen food can often be more nutritious than fresh as the nutrients are preserved very soon after they are picked. They also last longer, are cheaper and can be bought in bulk
- Experiment with dried spices: Dried spices are cheap and can add plenty of flavor to your dishes. Loss of appetite can be a problem in older people, but cooking with species can certainly help bring more flavor to your food and encourage healthy meals.
To Sum Up
Although generally healthy eating advice applies to people of all ages, people over 50 should take extra care of their diet.
This is because certain diseases can be exasperated by old age. Therefore, getting sufficient protein, fiber, nutrients, exercise and hydration is particularly important.
Follow these steps to get the most out of your Mediterranean diet if you’re over 50.