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Civic Coffee Recap: Healthy Eating

civic coffee audience

Age Friendly Seattle’s monthly Civic Coffee on June 10, 2024, took place at the Ethiopian Community in Seattle, and featured a presentation on healthy eating by Tanya Fink, a Community Nutrition Registered Dietitian at Tilth Alliance. Tanya shared insightful information on maintaining a balanced diet for older adults.

Tilth Alliance, a nonprofit organization in Seattle, is dedicated to building an equitable, sustainable, and healthy food system for all. The organization provides education and training in organic farming, urban gardening, and environmental stewardship. Their programs empower individuals with the knowledge and tools to make informed decisions about healthy eating and sustainable food practices. This includes specialized programs and resources promoting healthy eating habits and food access that are tailored to older people.

diabetes plate method

The Diabetes Plate Method (American Diabetes Association) is a useful meal-planning tool for most older adults.

As we age, our nutritional needs change. To support our health, we may require adjustments in our dietary habits. Tanya described how using the Diabetes Plate Method provides guidance on portion sizes for different food groups and assists in managing blood sugar levels. When implementing this model:

  • Half of the plate should consist of a variety of non-starchy vegetables like green salad, broccoli, and carrots, which are low in carbohydrates and high in fiber. These can help lower blood sugar. Leafy greens are particularly important as they are nutrient dense.
  • One quarter of the plate should be dedicated to protein foods. This category is not exclusive to meat—it includes plant-based proteins like lentils, beans, and plant-based meat substitutes.
  • The remaining quarter of the plate should be filled with whole grains such as whole wheat bread or pasta, and brown rice. Keeping carbohydrate foods to a quarter of your plate can help prevent blood sugar spikes after meals.
  • Consuming fruit throughout the day is important, ideally not on an empty stomach. Berries, in particular, are essential because they are rich in antioxidants.

Vitamin D and calcium are vital nutrients that play key roles in supporting healthy bones, muscles, nerves, immune function, and hormone regulation. Insufficient levels of these nutrients can lead to osteoporosis (bone weakening) and increase the risk of fractures, as well as muscle weakness. While our bodies produce Vitamin D naturally when exposed to sunlight, factors such as reduced sunlight exposure due to geographic location, sunscreen use for melanoma protection, and aging can hinder its production. Dietary sources of Vitamin D include cod liver oil, wild-caught salmon, canned fish, fortified milk, and dairy products—always remember to check the label for accuracy. Supplementation may be necessary, particularly during winter months due to decreased sunlight.

Calcium-rich foods such as dairy products, kale, collard greens, and legumes can help meet daily requirements, but supplementation may also be recommended. Tanya recommends talking to your health care provider to create a personalized plan to ensure you are getting the right amounts of these essential nutrients.

Protein needs vary depending on age, gender, and activity levels, so general recommendations can differ significantly. For older adults, protein is particularly important because it helps maintain muscle mass, supports immune function, and preserves physical function. As we age, muscle mass naturally decreases, necessitating a higher protein intake than when we were younger to help counteract this loss. Adequate protein is also crucial for recovery from injuries.

Good sources of protein include lean meats and lean cuts such as tenderloin, loin chops, as well as plant-based substitutes like lentils, beans, tofu, and quinoa. It is recommended to consume about 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal and 12 to 15 grams of protein per snack.

Finding the right amount of protein for your body is essential to ensure your diet meets your nutritional needs. You can calculate your protein requirement by following these steps:

  1. Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms.
  2. Multiply the weight in kilograms by 1.2 to determine the number of grams of protein per day you need.

A helpful method for gauging protein intake is to use the size of your palm for meat and the size of your clenched fist for beans, legumes, and grains.

A screenshot of the video of the civic coffee meeting.

Click on the image above to hear Tanya Fink’s presentation on healthy eating at the Civic Coffee in June 2024 (YouTube, 50:27).

As a dietitian, Tanya often emphasizes the importance of adding nutritious foods to one’s diet to support healthy aging, but she also advised being mindful of certain foods—sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars. Tanya noted that, while sodium is commonly associated with salt, most of our intake comes from packaged or processed foods and restaurant meals. Sources of saturated fat include red meat, butter, cream, coconut oil, baked goods, fried foods, and fast foods. Additionally, Tanya noted that added sugars are found in beverages, desserts, sauces, condiments, and fruit juices. She advises low to moderate consumption of these foods for better health outcomes as we age.

Hydration is crucial for older adults as it affects various aspects of health and well-being. Monitoring urine color can provide insight into hydration status, though medications can influence its appearance. Factors such as exercise levels, environmental conditions, and health conditions can impact hydration needs. Additionally, aging can decrease the sensation of thirst, making it important to be proactive about staying hydrated.

Consuming hydrating foods like fruits, vegetables, soups, and herbal teas is beneficial. While the recommendation to drink half of one’s body weight in ounces is commonly suggested, it’s good to note that hydration needs vary from person to person.

Engaging in regular physical activity is crucial for maintaining overall health and well-being. Discovering physical activities that you enjoy is essential for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Aerobic exercises, which increase your heart rate and breathing, can include tasks like mowing the lawn, dancing, walking, hiking, active yoga, biking, or water aerobics. It’s recommended to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week.

Additionally, incorporating muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days per week is important. These can include lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing bodyweight exercises like push-ups and sit-ups, gardening, or practicing yoga poses.

Balance activities are also valuable for preventing falls. These can include walking backwards, standing on one leg, or doing abdominal workouts. Choose activities that you enjoy and make them a regular part of your routine to stay active and healthy.

Age Friendly Seattle extends gratitude to Tanya Fink for her informative presentation on maintaining a balanced diet for older adults, as well as to the Ethiopian Community in Seattle for hosting this event.

Stay connected with Age Friendly Seattle to learn about upcoming Civic Coffees and other events. Visit and bookmark Aging King County’s Age Friendly Live—Virtual Events webpage.

Fathima GarciaContributor Fathima Garcia is an intern with Age Friendly Seattle. She is studying Human Resources Management at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.


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