Older adults have unique nutrition needs, making it essential for them to eat a wide variety of healthy foods.
What are superfoods? The term refers to whole, minimally processed foods that are nutrient dense. Most superfoods are plant-based, but not all.
Making superfoods a regular part of their diet can help seniors maintain strong bones and prevent chronic disease.
What's one of the secrets to aging well? It starts with the foods we put on our plate every day. A balanced diet, filled with superfoods, can help older adults maintain healthy cognitive function and strong bones, and even prevent chronic disease. Superfoods should be a staple of any healthy meal plan for seniors.
What is a superfood?
Superfoods are not a distinct food category on their own. Rather, this heroic-sounding name simply describes whole, minimally processed foods that are nutrient dense. Generally, superfoods contain healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other compounds found to promote good health and prevent illness and disease. While most are plant-based, certain fish and dairy products may also be considered superfoods.
What superfoods should seniors eat? No single superfood provides all the nutrition older adults need. That's why, if you’re caring for a loved one, you’ll want to encourage them to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods daily.
Are there anti-aging superfoods?
What foods are considered superfoods? There are many—but here are some superfood rockstars known to contribute to healthy aging.
1. Dark leafy greens
Dark-colored leafy greens like kale and spinach are rich in carotenoids, which have been shown to protect the eyes against oxidative damage. Spinach is also loaded with vitamins A and C, which help protect the heart and moderate blood pressure levels. Vitamin K is another leafy-green nutrient, found to play a major role in preventing osteoporosis. Leafy greens are delicious in a salad, in a sandwich, or sautéed with a splash of healthy oil.
Spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli and other leafy greens can make medications to prevent blood clots less effective. Green leafy veggies are rich in vitamin K, which interacts with the common blood-thinning drug warfarin (brand name Coumadin). Please speak with your doctor before adding more leafy greens to your diet.
2. Cruciferous vegetables
This veggie family includes broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and turnips—all of which are great sources of fiber, vitamins, and cancer-preventing phytochemicals. Cruciferous vegetables are tasty and extremely versatile. Toss them in soups, pasta dishes, and casseroles; steam them; or stir-fry them with seasoning and some olive oil.
In an interview with U.S. News & World Report, Reema Kanda, a registered dietitian nutritionist with the Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, California, says studies show that blueberries have positive neurocognitive effects in both animals and humans. As a result, Kanda says, they may help delay age-related cognitive decline.
Blueberries are also rich in antioxidants, compounds that help protect our cells against free-radical damage and reduce the risk for heart disease and cancer. These flavorful, versatile berries can be added to smoothies and desserts, sprinkled over cereal, and of course, eaten all by themselves!
4. Nuts and seeds
From almonds and pecans to hazelnuts and pistachios, nuts are packed with antioxidants, fiber, and plant protein. They also contain monounsaturated fats, which are thought to help lower heart disease risk. As long as the older adult you care for has no known allergies, nuts make a delicious standalone snack. They can also be blended into pestos or used as a scrumptious salad topper.
Seeds are another satisfying superfood. A 2016 study found that chia seeds—rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants—may help prevent cancer and protect the heart and liver. Other tasty seed options include hemp seed and flax seed, which are also high in inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids.
Something to keep in mind about nuts and seeds: They are high in fat and calories, so it's best to limit consumption to a small handful each day.
Eggs have been a source of dietary controversy over the years due to cholesterol found in the yolk. However, skipping the yolk could deprive older adults of key nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, and selenium. Egg yolks also contain choline, a nutrient and neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood and memory.
Unless otherwise instructed by their doctor, older adults can consume up to three eggs per day. Since eggs are high in protein, this senior superfood is an ideal choice for a hearty breakfast—scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, or sunny side up.
Fatty fish (e.g., salmon, herring, mackerel, trout, and tuna steak) is an excellent source of protein—a nutrient vital to maintaining muscle mass in older adults. It's also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease. A great way to enjoy a fresh fish filet is to lightly season it, bake it, and serve with a side of cruciferous vegetables.
7. Plain Greek yogurt
When it comes to protein, Greek yogurt delivers. Just one cup has 17 grams of protein as well as 20% of the daily recommended intake of calcium. Why else is Greek yogurt considered one of the best superfoods for seniors? It contains probiotics, which help us maintain gut health. Probiotics have been shown to aid in digestion, boost immune function, and even prevent infection.
Plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt is highly versatile. It can be topped with granola and berries or even be substituted for sour cream in certain recipes. Look for yogurt made with whole milk or reduced-fat milk with no added sugar.
Avocado is a nutritional powerhouse, loaded with nourishing fats, antioxidants, and other nutrients that support head-to-toe health. This creamy-textured fruit is delicious in guacamole or spread on toast. If the older adult you care for doesn't like the taste of avocado, consider blending it into a fruit smoothie for a subtle nutritional boost.
Stocking up on superfoods is easier with SNAP
Eating healthfully can be costly, especially at a time when grocery prices are rising. But through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the senior you care for may be able to get monthly financial help to make superfoods and other groceries more affordable.
Many older adults who qualify for SNAP assistance don’t take advantage of these benefits, which can be life changing. Take Carol G., age 70, for instance. She lives alone on a limited income, and once all her bills are paid, there is little left for food.
After applying for SNAP, Carol was awarded $139 in monthly benefits, and no longer struggles to eat well. "I'm so grateful," she told NCOA.
Before SNAP I was not able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Now I can make healthier food choices and live a healthier life."
NCOA offers a simple screening tool that can tell you if an older adult qualifies before they fill out a SNAP application. Go to BenefitsCheckUp.org/GetSNAP and select your state of residence. If it turns out they’re eligible for SNAP benefits, we’ll also give you all the information you need to help them apply.