5 Diet Tips From Harvard Medical School for a Senior to Jump-Start a Healthier New Year

With the New Year upon us, you and your senior mother or father likely are making some resolutions. These very well may include healthier eating and overall wellness. Teresa Fung, a registered dietitian with Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, advises that by practicing healthier eating, your senior mother or father can begin the new year with “momentum and motivation.”

If you are involved in assisting your senior parent with health and wellness matters, Harvard University Medical School presents five tips for a senior to jump-start a healthier new year:

  • Focus on portion control
  • Focus on mindful eating
  • Push vegetables and fruits
  • Spice up meals
  • Reduce alcohol use

Focus On Portion Control

Portion control is an important factor in seniors’ health, which may be at greater risk for chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. Eating the right amounts of food can help keep seniors healthy and help them manage their conditions. Here are five key facts about portion control for seniors:

  1. Portion sizes have increased over time. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, portion sizes have grown significantly since the 1970s. Servings of many foods have doubled or even tripled in size. This can make it difficult for seniors to judge proper portions because they may need to realize how much they eat.
  2. Portion control helps manage weight and blood sugar levels. Eating smaller portions can help seniors maintain a healthy weight, reducing their risk of heart disease and other chronic health conditions. It also helps them regulate their blood sugar levels, especially for seniors with diabetes or prediabetes.
  3. Seniors should avoid supersized meals when dining out. Seniors must be mindful of their portion sizes to avoid overeating and weight gain. Many restaurants offer supersized meals that contain more calories than necessary; these should be avoided whenever possible.
  4. Use smaller plates and utensils to help manage portions. Using smaller plates when eating a meal can help seniors control serving size. Using smaller utensils can slow down consumption time so that a senior does not eat too quickly or mindlessly consume excess calories without realizing it.
  5. Plan meals ahead of time to ensure balanced nutrition and proper portions. Planning meals ahead of time allow senior citizens to ensure that their food provides balanced nutrition and reasonable portion sizes throughout the day. This is especially important for those managing chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, who must regularly monitor their food intake to stay healthy and active in old age.

Focus On Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is being directly conscious and sharply focused on nourishing our bodies with food. This practice involves more than simply observing what we eat and making good food choices. Mindful eating means paying attention to how, when, and why we eat. Mindful eating can help us become more aware of our physical and emotional responses to food and reduce guilt or shame around food-related decisions. We can develop a more conscious relationship with food by learning about mindfulness and mindful eating.

The four elements of mindful eating are:

  • Awareness of physical hunger cues
  • Recognizing emotional triggers for eating
  • Tuning into internal body signals during meals
  • Learning how to respond mindfully when cravings arise

Awareness of Physical Hunger Cues

The first step in mindful eating is paying close attention to your body’s natural hunger cues. Consider if you are truly hungry before deciding whether or not to eat. Ask yourself questions such as “Am I getting uncomfortable sensations in my stomach?” or “Am I getting lightheaded?” If the answer is yes, it’s likely time to eat something. Conversely, ask yourself, “Am I full?” or “Do I feel like I have plenty of energy?” If yes, it may be best not to snack unnecessarily. Practicing this level of awareness helps support a consistent pattern for your blood sugar levels throughout the day and avoids overeating due to boredom or stress.

Recognizing Emotional Triggers for Eating

In addition to recognizing physical hunger cues, it is important to be aware of any emotional triggers that may make us want to eat out of habit or boredom rather than true hunger. Common triggers include stress, tiredness, anger, or sadness – any emotion-related feeling which might trigger an urge for certain types of comfort foods like sugary snacks or junk foods that often come along with pleasurable experiences in our past. Identifying these emotions ahead of time allows us to respond in healthy ways that don’t involve stuffing our faces with unhealthy snacks to avoid difficult emotions. This kind of behavior only prolongs our negative emotions and adds extra pounds in the long run.

Tuning Into Internal Body Signals During Meals

Once you have identified physical hunger cues and chosen healthy foods based on those cues – it’s also important to pay attention during meal times. Mindful eating encourages us to tune into body signals during meals and begin recognizing any patterns associated with different foods. Learning how different foods affect us physically allows us to make better choices next time while figuring out how your emotional reactions differ from one type of food can be invaluable in helping you understand why you may have certain unhealthy cravings to break free from them if necessary.

Learning How to Respond Mindfully When Cravings Arise

Finally, despite taking all precautions, cravings can still arise. It is important to recognize this as a normal part of life. It is perfectly natural to experience some degree of temptation, especially when surrounded by foods that we favor, including those that are not particularly healthy.  

Push Vegetables and Fruits

Harvard Medical School strenuously recommends that seniors eat more fresh vegetables and fruits to jump-start a healthier diet in the new year. A balanced diet is essential for your senior parent to maintain optimal physical and mental health. Fresh fruits and vegetables should form an important part of it. Eating more of these nutrient-packed foods can help seniors enjoy a wide range of benefits that come with good nutrition. Harvard Medical School points out five reasons why our senior parents should make a conscious effort to increase their intake of fresh fruits and vegetables in the new year:

  1. Improved digestion: Vegetables and fruits are rich in fiber, which is essential for healthy digestion. Seniors may experience digestive issues due to changes in metabolism, medication side effects, or poor dietary habits. Including more fiber-rich produce in their diets can help prevent constipation and improve overall gut health. Additionally, the water content in fruits and veggies can keep the digestive system hydrated.
  2. Better cardiovascular health: Eating more fresh produce can help seniors reduce their risk of stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and other cardiovascular conditions. A diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits provides essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and dietary fiber that promote good heart health. Fruits such as oranges are particularly beneficial as they are rich in vitamin C, which helps protect against heart disease.
  3. Protection against chronic diseases: Certain chronic diseases become increasingly common as we age; however, eating a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of developing them or slow down their progression if they’re already present. For example, cruciferous veggies like broccoli contain sulforaphane which helps protect cells from damage caused by oxidative stress linked to chronic illnesses like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
  4. Maintaining mental agility: Consuming a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables daily can provide valuable nutrients that are necessary for optimal brain functioning as your senior parent ages. These include folate (present in spinach), lutein (found in corn), carotenoids (in carrots), and potassium (avocados). These nutrients are believed to help reduce the risk of dementia or stave off its onset.
  5. Stronger bones and muscles: As people grow older, they become increasingly susceptible to osteoporosis, which weakens bones. Calcium-rich foods like yogurt and calcium-absorbing nutrients found in dark leafy greens like kale can ensure optimal bone health even during a person’s senior years. Additionally, loading up on potassium-rich fruits such as bananas will provide increased support for strengthening muscles over time.

Spice up Meals

As we move into the new year, Harvard Medical School recommends spicing up your senior parent’s diet. According to Teresa Fung of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health:

There are a lot of spice mixes available that combine a variety of spices and can be used on all kinds of meals, from poultry to soups to side dishes. Better yet, experiment with creating your spice mix. “You don’t have to know what you are doing; give it a try and enjoy your creation.”

First, adding spices to a senior’s diet may help improve digestion and nutrient absorption. Many common spices contain various plant compounds, such as polyphenols which can help increase the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals from the foods seniors eat. These compounds also act as natural laxatives and stimulate increased stomach acid production, aiding in proper digestion. As seniors age, chronic digestive problems such as constipation become more common due to decreased production of stomach acids, making it difficult for them to absorb nutrients effectively from their food. Incorporating spices into meals helps improve digestive health, leading to better absorption of vital nutrients needed for optimal wellness.

Second, dietary spices have been linked to reduced inflammation in the body which is especially beneficial for seniors who are more prone to certain aging-related diseases, such as osteoporosis or arthritis. Spices like turmeric and ginger are especially potent anti-inflammatory agents that can help reduce joint pain in seniors with arthritis or other joint-related conditions caused by aging. Additionally, some research has found that dietary spices may even possess anti-carcinogenic properties – meaning they have the potential to reduce cancer risk in older adults with weakened immune systems due to age.

Finally, using certain herbs and spices regularly may even boost cognitive performance in seniors by improving memory, concentration, and learning skills thanks to their high antioxidant content, which fights free radicals that cause cell damage in the brain over time. For example, basil contains an antioxidant compound called rosmarinic acid, which has been shown in studies to improve long-term memory in both young and elderly individuals through its neuroprotective effects against oxidative stress-induced brain cell damage.

Reduce Alcohol Use

According to Harvard Medical School, one survey found that the average adult consumes three alcoholic drinks daily during the holidays. This includes men and women over the age of 65. A new study suggests that just one daily drink may raise a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease. This includes people in their proverbial Golder Years. In addition, there are extra calories to consider depending on the type of beverage. The number of calories per serving of alcoholic beverage can range from about 120 to more than 200.

Harvard Medical School cites a variety of reasons why seniors should consider reducing the amount of alcohol they consume as part of a larger plan to jump-start a healthier new year.

  1. Drinking can interfere with medications that seniors may need to take, reducing their effectiveness and causing potentially dangerous side effects. Alcohol can also depress the central nervous system, leading to depression, confusion, and mood swings. Drinking alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of several serious health problems in seniors, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, liver cancer, and stroke.
  2. Excessive drinking also has short- and long-term effects on a senior’s body. As they age, people become more prone to falls due to weakened muscles and bones. Drinking increases risk factors for falls due to mobility, balance, and reaction time impairments.
  3. Alcohol consumption can also lead to nutritional deficiencies in seniors and dehydration. Alcohol interferes with the absorption of vitamins and minerals while simultaneously increasing the body’s need for them. In addition, alcohol causes a greater risk of osteoporosis by reducing the calcium absorbed into the bones. This is especially true if combined with smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products, which further increases the risk of bone fractures in elderly individuals.


Considering the tips and tactics presented in this comprehensive article, your senior parent – and you, for that matter – will be in a far better position to launch the new year in a healthier style. You will be able to reap the benefits of improved physical, mental, and emotional health as the year progresses.