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Healthy Eating For Senior Citizens

Rohini Diniz

Here’s what senior citizens need to include in their lunch and dinner to ensure that their nutritional requirements are met.

Cereals should form the base of diets as they provide carbohydrates which help meet the energy requirements of the body. Since the ageing process reduces the total energy needs of the body, senior citizens should be careful about the amount and type of cereal they consume, as portion sizes have a big impact on one’s total caloric intake and can lead to weight gain as well as raise blood sugar levels. Those preferring rice should choose parboiled rice or brown rice instead of white rice. Parboiled rice and brown rice have higher fibre, vitamin and mineral content and satiety value as compared to white rice. Those who prefer eating chapattis, rotis or phulkas should prepare the same from multigrain flour rather than from plain wheat flour as multigrain flours have a higher protein, vitamin and mineral content. Millet bhakris are also nutritious and can be consumed if desired. What really matters is the quantity of rice or the number of chapattis or rotis that are eaten.

Lunch and dinner should include plenty of vegetables every day. It is not only the quantity of vegetables that is important but variety too. Except for root vegetables, all other vegetables are low in calories, have high water content and are rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Include green leafy vegetables and yellow orange vegetables twice a week. Remember half your plate should consist of vegetables both raw as well as cooked.

Root vegetables such as colocasia (arbi), potato (batat), elephant foot (suran), sweet potato (kongi/ratal /shakkarkand), tapioca, yam (katekongi, karando and chirko) are starchy and rich in energy and need to be eaten in less quantity.

There are a number of other accompaniments such as curries, gravies or dry dishes that are prepared from pulses, dals, fish, egg, chicken or meat and eaten both at lunch and dinner. These foods are rich in protein that not only provide satisfaction to a meal, but also have critical functions in the body.

For many people, meals are incomplete without papads, pickles or chutneys. These foods make a bland and boring meal appetising. Though pickles are prepared from nutritious ingredients such as lime, amla, mango or a variety of vegetables, they contain a large quantity of salt, sugar and oil which are added to preserve them. Papads are prepared from pulses but also contain salt and sodium benzoate (papad khar) and have high sodium content. Hence, pickles and papads should be eaten in restricted amounts especially by those suffering from high blood pressure and kidney problems.

Round off your lunch and dinner with a fruit. Fruits like amla, guava and citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C which helps in the absorption of iron from the meal.

Cook food using small amounts of oil and use cooking methods such as steaming, grilling, roasting and baking instead of frying.

Senior citizens should ensure that they use less salt in cooking and at the table. Salt is made up of two mineral elements sodium and chloride and studies have shown that a number of health conditions are aggravated by a high sodium diet, the strongest evidence being high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Low sodium diets help keep blood pressure from rising and help antihypertensive medicines work better. How can one cut down the intake of salt and sodium?

Be a smart shopper. Taste alone may not tell you which foods are high in sodium. Processed foods like breakfast cereals that don’t taste ‘salty’ often have high sodium levels.

Read food labels carefully and look for the terms salt, brine, monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking soda, baking powder, sodium benzoate, sodium citrate, sodium nitrate or nitrite (salt petre), sodium pyrophosphate, sodium erythrobate, disodium phosphate and sodium saccharine or sodium alginate as they all contribute to the total sodium content of  processed foods.

Cook food with fresh unprocessed ingredients as it allows you to control the amount of salt you decide to add to your meals. Remember less the better.

Use fresh or dried herbs, spices, zest from citrus fruit or fruit juices to enhance the flavour of your meals. Season salads or raitas or cut fruit with chaat masala.

Eat instant noodles, instant pastas, frozen dinners, pizza, cold meats such as ham, bacon, salami, sausages, packaged mixes, soup powders and salad dressings, chips, wafers, nachos, salted nuts, salted biscuits, namkeens, pickles, papads, sauces, dips, ketchup, soya sauce, cheese, olives, salted fish, etc, less frequently as they contain salt as well as sodium-based food additives. When using canned foods, thoroughly drain out the brine.

Remember to eat potassium-rich foods such as bananas, dates, muskmelon citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables and tender coconut water as potassium helps to offset some of sodium’s harmful effects on blood pressure.

Senior citizens need to be careful about the type of snacks they eat along with their evening tea. Rather than eating biscuits, cookies or plain toast try having a small portion of a nutritious snack such as roasted nuts, steamed sprouts, ladoos prepared of besan or rajgira or moong flour or methi, poha or sheera or puranpoli or theplas or khakra. Avoid deep fried snacks as they are calorie rich.

(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 20 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on

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