You see it everywhere. Eating a healthy and balanced diet is good for us. Eating healthy means we eat foods that nutritionally include water, vitamins, minerals, fat, protein, and carbohydrates. A diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, and fiber may reduce the risk of heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. It helps to control weight, which contributes to an overall sense of high energy and feeling good.
We know this. Some of us are more careful about what we eat than others.
But most of us don’t realize older adults have different diet and nutritional requirements.
I’m fortunate enough to have three healthy seniors in my life. But sometimes their food choices make me crazy. You can’t tell them anything. They’ve been eating certain foods their whole lives. Some of it’s generational, other times its old habits, or a lack of knowledge.
Aging introduces another dimension to the emphasis on healthy eating. Less activity, changes in body shape, or a loss of appetite can happen so slowly that no one notices. According to health in aging.org, gradual changes can come from economic, psychological, and social factors, genetic patterns, accidents, or illnesses.
Because of these possible considerations, seniors need to be made aware that keeping their nutrient intake in balance is essential to good health.
Some Issues That Make It harder For Seniors To Eat Healthily
· Medicines that cause loss of appetite, dry mouth, or change the taste of foods
· Declining health which makes it challenging to cook, eat, or hampers mobility
· Changes in the senses of taste and smell
· Difficulty chewing and or swallowing food
· Living alone
· Living on a fixed income
If the senior in your life lives alone, eating healthy creates more significant challenges. First, because you aren’t with them every day, and second, they could have access to familiar foods they should avoid.
Retirement communities, senior centers that provide meals, assisted living communities, and nursing home facilities have strict food guidelines they follow. Unfortunately, the senior center, retirement community, and assisted living residents can get bored with their meals, which follow a six to eight- week rotation. Having access to other food sources, like take-out, and fast food is when problems can arise.
Seniors who live alone and are responsible for their meals are the most vulnerable when it comes to eating healthy. This is true, especially if they live in a low-rent, subsidized apartment, or community. In addition to the food they purchase, they receive donated food from organizations.
They don’t get a lot of fresh produce, but they get an abundance of high sodium foods. Canned soups, meats, and vegetables, pretzels, processed cheese, boxed potato, and pasta dishes, and all-in-one meal helpers, with the handy dandy little flavor packet.
… And those are just the high sodium foods. The sugary juices, cereals, snacks, and desserts are another story. Beware of the freebie packages. The intentions are good, but sometimes the food is not the best suited for a senior diet. Teach your loved one to be a little picky. Just because the food is given to them, doesn’t mean they have to take items they don’t want or need.
Foods And Nutrients Your Senior Should Be Consuming
Healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated no matter what your age. However, seniors need more protein to maintain bone health, muscle mass, and strength because an aging body processes the nutrient less efficiently.
Potassium is essential for an aging body because it keeps the heart healthy by maintaining the heartbeat. It also controls the natural water balance in the body and manages muscle contractions and nerve impulses.
Magnesium keeps the bones and immune system healthy, is good for the heart, and is essential in maintaining 300 physiological functions. The digestion of magnesium decreases with some medications. It is primarily in nuts, whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
Fiber helps to lower cholesterol, which helps to fight heart disease. It also decreases the chance of getting colorectal cancer. Fiber from whole grain foods helps to prevent hemorrhoids and constipation; a common pain in the ass (pun intended) for older adults. Foods high in fiber are whole grains, seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, peas, and beans.
The Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern recommends for people over 50 the following daily food choices:
· Protein — 5 to 6 1/2 ounces
· Fruits- 1 1/2 to 2 cups
· Vegetables — 2 to 3 cups
· Whole Grains — 5 to 8 ounces
· Oils — 5 to 7 teaspoons
· Dairy — 3 cups (fat-free or low-fat) I don’t eat fat-free/low-fat anything. Processed fat-free/low-fat items contain a lot of sugar and preservatives. But that’s my choice; it’s not suitable for everyone.
· Oils-5 to 7 teaspoons
It doesn’t mean you have to weigh everything. It’s a rough guideline. Here are some examples of healthy food types.
Eat protein-rich foods like fish, salmon, beans, peas, lean meats, poultry, eggs, nuts, and seeds.
Fruits and vegetables, preferably fresh, but frozen and canned will do. Always drain and rinse canned vegetables. Leafy green vegetables like spinach and cabbage, kale and collard greens. Orange vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots.
Don’t forget carbohydrate-rich brown rice, white potatoes, (without all the fixings) oatmeal, whole grain cereals, bread, pasta, or crackers.
Milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese fortified with vitamin D is good for healthy bones, but again, low-fat or fat-free is recommended. If whole-fat products are preferred, adjust the serving size.
Choose healthy fats like polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Use oils instead of solid fats for cooking. Use saturated fats sparingly and avoid trans fats. Saturated fats come from animals like duck fat, and bacon fat, butter, and full-fat dairy items. Trans fats are processed fats found in fried foods, fast foods, store-bought baked goods, vegetable shortening, and stick margarine.
Snacks are encouraged, healthy choices like fruit, cream cheese or peanut butter on whole-grain toast, a one-ounce portion of nuts, yogurt, fresh veggies with hummus, an ounce of cheese with whole-grain crackers and fruit. The combinations are endless. And yes, the occasional bowl of ice cream or favorite dessert should be included in moderation.
Suggestions For Issues That Prevent Seniors From Eating Healthy
· If medicines are affecting the taste, and smell of food, try adding texture like something crunchy or add color, and different flavors with spices.
· If chewing is a consistent problem, check with a dentist.
· If swallowing is an issue, drinking plenty of water with a meal should help. If not, check with the Primary Care Physician ( PCP).
· If not eating enough is a problem, healthy snacks throughout the day, ensure needed calories and nutrients. If loss of appetite is the problem, physical activity and some exercise can generate hunger.
· If illness or lack of mobility is making cooking and eating harder, the PCP may recommend an occupational therapist to help with more comfortable ways of doing things. The non-profit organization Meals on Wheels America is nearly in every community across the country. They deliver nutritious lunches to over 2.4 million seniors every year.
· If eating alone is boring, suggest eating some meals at a religious, community, or senior center. Sharing potluck meals or cooking with a friend can also be fun.
· Certain medicines interfere with the sense of thirst. Drinking plenty of liquids is essential to avoid dehydration.
Whether or not, your senior lives alone, one of the best things you can do is make sure they understand how to read a Nutrition Facts Label. Because if your senior is anything like mine, they must see it to believe it!
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