You can hardly turn on the television or radio these days without hearing about the latest health fad or diet. You hear people espouse all these tremendous benefits they are receiving from these “fads”. You think to yourself, how could you get your aging loved one to participate in any of this, when getting them to eat a couple pieces of fruit a week feels like a huge feat?
Trying to keep up with the overload of information that comes at us, every which way, is proven to be near impossible. If things were not hard enough, many times there are different schools of thought out there. For instance, one week we are told kale is hailed the “superfood” and it should, and can be, consumed in unlimited quantities. The next thing we know, experts warn the public that if kale is consumed in large quantities, it can cause digestive problems, kidney stones, thyroid and heart problems. The moral of the story is everything in moderation. People have become very extreme with food nowadays.
You need to be on guard when words like “magic” or “miracle” are used when describing a product or health trend. If something truly was, you would have most likely heard about it. Then there is also, of course, a friend of your aunt, sister-in-law, and cousin who tried this one diet and/or product that cured her of all her ailments. Therefore, it is assumed that it will obviously do the same for your aging loved one, right? Remember, we are all wonderfully unique, which means we all will respond a bit different to various things.
As one ages, the body begins to need fewer calories, but it still needs the same amount of nutrition. Also, seniors tend to have less of an appetite, due to a slower metabolism. As a result, it is vital to have nutrient-dense foods.
The following are some guidelines for healthier eating and nutrition:
1.) Live Foods
It is good to incorporate what’s considered “live foods”, which are foods that are left in their original state, or close to it. It include fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. These foods contain vital nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and live enzymes, which help our bodies process those nutrients and are essential for body systems to function. Canned fruits and vegetables have little to no nutritional value. If you can’t always buy fresh fruits and vegetables, the next best thing is to buy frozen, but check the packaging for possible added sugars or sodium. Think the more color on your plate, the better, as it will ensure you are getting a variety of nutrients. Just as a caveat, older adults who are at risk of a clot and put on blood thinners, should avoid dark leafy greens. They are high sources of vitamin K and would therefore act against the blood thinner medication.
2.) Sodium Intake
High blood pressure is a condition that affects 58% of seniors on Medicare, and heart failure is one of the most common reasons why seniors go to the hospital. Reducing sodium intake may help lower or avoid high blood pressure and prevent heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. Reducing sodium in recipes does not mean there has to be a compromise in flavor. To make things flavorful, cook in a crockpot with fresh herbs and spices and let things simmer for longer to bring about fuller, richer flavors. There are plenty of resources online that have low sodium recipes.
3.) Natural Sugars vs. Processed Sugars
Sugars naturally occurring in foods like fruits and vegetables are considered to be a healthy form of sugar, as these foods also contain fiber and other nutrients. It is the processed sugars and sweeteners that need to be limited. Consuming processed sugars and simple carbohydrates that get converted to sugar, can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions, as well as contribute to overall body inflammation. Check food labels, as added sugar can be found in the most surprising things.
Seniors are prone to dehydration. It can become quite serious, very quickly. If you are having a hard time getting your loved one to drink enough water, add some of their favorite pieces of fruit or vegetable, such as, strawberries, cucumbers or even fresh mint leaves. Encourage your aging loved one to eat foods rich in water content, such as cucumbers, tomatoes and watermelon. If they drink any tea or coffee, keep in mind those will contribute to dehydration. Being hydrated is also important for certain medications to work properly.
5.) Good Fats vs. Bad Fats
Older adults are told to reduce the fat in their diets, but it can get confusing on how to do this properly. There are good fats and bad fats. The good fats are considered monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. They are good for your heart, brain, cholesterol and overall health. Some examples of good fats are the following: avocados, nuts, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, etc.), and olive, peanut and sesame oils. The bad fats are the trans and saturated fats. Examples of trans fats are the following: commercially baked cookies, pastries, cakes, packaged snack foods (chips, crackers), margarine, and fried foods. Examples of saturated fats are the following: red meat, whole-fat dairy products, butter, ice cream and tropical oils (palm and coconut). Nutritionists recommend that saturated fats make up only 10% of your daily calories.
6.) Fibrous Foods
Including fibrous foods with daily food intake will help regulate and speed up digestion, lower cholesterol levels and help regulate blood sugar levels. Some examples of fibrous foods are broccoli, artichokes, brussel sprouts, avocados, black beans, lentils, split peas, peas and raspberries to name a few. Whole grains, which are grains that have not been processed yet, still have the fiber and the vitamins and minerals still intact.
7.) Lean Proteins
Protein is the building block to muscles and essential amino acids. Seniors are at risk for losing muscle mass. Fish, turkey, lean beef, and lean skinless chicken breasts are great options for protein. It is best to avoid processed meats, as they are high in fat and sodium. To help reduce the risk of heart disease, evidence suggests two servings of fish per week.
8.) Vitamin D
Incorporate vitamin D whether it be through diet, vitamin D supplements or the sun. However, if you are in the sun and wearing sunscreen, the vitamin D would not get absorbed. It’s always a good idea to wear sunscreen, so it’s best to get vitamin D from other sources. There are differing opinions on how much vitamin D one should take, so check with your doctor to see what’s considered a safe and effective dose. Vitamin D is essential for older adults, as it’s important for pain and function and preservation of your muscles and bones.
Before you begin to make changes to your or your loved one’s diet, be sure to check with a primary healthcare provider for advice. The content in this post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
As mentioned in the beginning, it may be a struggle getting your aging loved one to eat much anything that’s considered healthy. Start small, with just incorporating a couple new things here or there. Also, there are endless healthy recipes out there now that taste good. They may not even notice a difference!
Eating healthy can require a lot of effort. It is more than just sticking a meal in the microwave, which is filled with high sodium and other preservatives. One way to save some time is through meal prepping – simply prepping some or all of your meals ahead of time. Another way to save time is to make large pots of soups or stews that can last for days and of course there are lots of ways to utilize the crockpot. Plus, check out our blog post 4 Tasty Meal Delivery Options for Seniors if you could use some additional assistance in this area.
There will always be another new health craze right around the corner. Do not feel the need to chase after all these fads. There is a reason many of them are so fleeting. They are not realistic long term. Do you ever find that the more you try to deprive yourself from something, the more you want it? It’s all about balance and finding things that are healthy and satiating. Not depriving! What we put into our bodies, is what we get out of them. It’s important to be good to your body, because we only get one.