As we grow older, modifications to dietary guidelines can ensure the golden years are as healthy as they can be. Even for those who have eaten a nutritionally balanced diet and practiced good wellness throughout their lives, our needs change over time and our bodies require our diets to be modified as we grow older.
The National Council On Aging (NCOA) states that a diet that includes a balance of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and low-fat dairy can help with disease prevention and overall quality of life. A well-balanced diet can impact seniors lives and health in many ways. Determining what nutrition the body needs as you age can be complex, so it can be helpful to seek input from a professional dietician or other healthcare professional.
Ways For Seniors To Improve Their Diet
Dietary recommendations change based on a person’s age, activity levels and unique health issues. However, there are some general guidelines that are suitable for most elderly adults. The following can help seniors and their caregivers become proactive about their health and quality of life.
- Bone Protection: As we age, our bones weaken due to decreased mobility and mineral loss. Increasing vitamin D and calcium intake to three times per day is appropriate to prevent osteoporosis or to keep the condition from worsening. Many foods, such as cereal, bread and juice, are fortified with both these important dietary components to promote bone health. The National Osteoporosis Foundation also recommends enhancing the calcium content of recipes by adding two to four tablespoons of nonfat powdered milk. Each tablespoon contains 50 mg of calcium, which can help you reach your total daily recommendation.
- Energy Boosting Supplementation: Growing older you may notice a change in daily energy levels. While this is normal to an extent, a vitamin B12 deficiency may also be to blame. If a person tests as B12 deficient, daily supplementation is key. Feeling lethargic can lead to decreased mobility and activity, which contribute to osteoporosis, heart weakening and alterations in bowel movements. Dietary sources of B12 include beef liver, mackerel, sardines, red meat, yogurt and fortified cereals.
- Increase Fiber: A common disease found in the elderly is Type 2 Diabetes. Dietary fiber is beneficial for slowing down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, which decreases and stabilizes blood glucose levels. Fiber is also important for digestion, lowering cholesterol and helping maintain a healthy weight. Beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains are the best source of fiber and nutrition.
- Reduce Salt Intake: High blood pressure is a common issue when you age. Reducing salt intake is a huge step towards a heart-healthy diet. Instead of sodium, try adding seasonings such as garlic powder, onion powder, dill, paprika, pepper, citrus and fresh herbs when you cook that add flavor and little or no added salt. Be aware of the sodium content of favorite sauces, condiments, and packaged and prepared foods as well.
- Protecting “Gut” Health: Prebiotics and probiotics are sometimes called “nutrition boosters.” Prebiotics are natural non-digestible food components that enhance gastrointestinal (GI) function and calcium absorption. Probiotics are good bacteria that are naturally found in the gut; and prebiotic intake can be increased by eating things like asparagus, garlic, bananas and whole grain foods. To maintain healthy gut flora and help the digestive system recover more quickly after taking these medications, take a daily probiotic supplement and eat foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi.
- Protecting Skin With Vitamins C and E: Be proactive with skin protection by using vitamins E and C to help maintain skin integrity. Sunflower seeds, almonds and spinach are excellent sources of vitamin E, and bell peppers, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower), and berries contain a good amount of vitamin C. Adequate hydration is crucial for improving skin elasticity and resilience as well.
- Strong Immunity Protection: Inflammation is involved in a number of different diseases such as atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and even cancer. As we all know, these conditions are prevalent in seniors, especially since our immune systems tend to weaken as we age. Research says that at least half of one’s plate should consist of vegetables and fruit at each meal. Choose healthy animal proteins like fatty fish (salmon) or lean poultry (boneless skinless chicken breast) and whole grains as your source of carbohydrates and starch to round out meals.
Nutritional Management For Seniors
One of the top areas of concern in aging is a decline in healthy eating for seniors. If you’re concerned that your senior loved ones may not be getting enough nutrition to remain healthy and well, the following checklist below can help you to determine if your loved one needs assistance, and requires a nutritional plan incorporated into a care plan:
- Has your loved one mentioned loss of appetite, digestive issues, or chewing or swallowing troubles?
- Has there been diminished food consumption over the past three months as a result of these above issues?
- Has your loved one encountered weight loss over the past three months? Weight loss, especially for those who live a sedentary lifestyle, can be a sign that the person is not eating properly.
- Does the older person have problems with mobility? Being confined to a bed or unable to go out can cause nutritional challenges like the inability to buy groceries or prepare meals.
- Has the older person suffered emotional stress or acute disease in the past three months?
- Does your loved one have a healthy body mass index (BMI)? A BMI of 18.5 or less may be an indicator that the senior is not eating enough, while a BMI of 30 or more can suggest obesity.
If you find you have answered yes to any — or several — of the above questions, your elderly loved one may be struggling with nutritional issues. After performing an in-depth assessment, our Geriatric Care Managers will find solutions to any eating challenges, including:
- Discussing food preferences with clients who may not eat healthy fruits and vegetables
- Documenting food intake
- Developing specific approaches for caregivers to present food to the client as part of a Care Plan
- Developing and implementing a system to shop for appropriate food
- Developing and overseeing a system to ensure freshness and safety of food
- Arranging for companionship during meals and/or outings at meal times
How to Make Long-Lasting Dietary Changes
Making dietary changes can be challenging for anyone at any age, but it can be especially difficult for older adults with set eating habits. If your loved one needs to make dietary changes to improve their health, there are specific things that can be done. Introducing new ways of eating gradually, and working towards a healthier diet in steps can make the overall change seem less overwhelming.
Diet Plans For Senior Health
Low-fat diets were extremely popular several decades ago, with processed food promoting themselves as low-fat dominating our diets. However, many of those items were high in sugar which can be even more dangerous than fat in our daily diet. It’s important to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy fats. Consuming a diet rich in healthy fats — such as whole milk products, grass-fed beef, avocados, eggs, and olive oil — is a great place to start. However some feel this way of eating can lead to high cholesterol and heart disease.
Therefore, many healthy professionals, including cardiologists, often recommend the DASH diet and Mediterranean-style eating plan to their patients.
The DASH Diet
Researchers say the DASH Diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and was created by the National Institutes of Health, seems to hold the most promise. It promotes maintaining a healthy weight, which helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Here are a few basic principles of the DASH diet:
- Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Lean protein sources such as poultry, beans, and fish
- A modest amount of healthy nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and Brazil nuts
- Using olive oil instead of oils high in saturated fat
Here are a few other DASH diet strategies regarding foods to avoid:
- Limit foods high in saturated fat, such as processed meat; full-fat dairy; and coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils
- Eliminate sugary beverages, pastries, and baked goods
- Restrict daily sodium levels to between 1,500 and 2,300 mg
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet includes relatively little red meat and emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats. This way of eating is not only good for your heart, but for brain health as well. Doctors found that seniors who eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, olive oil, and fish; moderate amounts of wine; and little red meat or high-fat dairy products see great results.
In addition, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, berries and dark-skinned fruits (which are rich in antioxidants) are some beneficial fruits which should be incorporated into your loved one’s diet. Fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, oranges, red grapes and cherries are good examples of these types of fruits.
Further, drinking juice has also been proven to have great benefits. Fruit and vegetable juices are recommended, and researchers point to disease-fighting substances called polyphenols that are naturally found in fruits and vegetables as a possible source of mind-health.
While there is no specific diet for our loved ones already living with Alzheimer’s disease, good nutrition can ease some symptoms and improve their health and wellness. Diets have not been proven as an effective treatment to address symptoms of Alzheimer’s; however, incorporating heart healthy eating patterns may help protect the brain.
When living with Alzheimer’s, your loved one may feel less hungry or thirsty, have problems chewing or swallowing, or may have trouble using utensils or feeding themselves. This raises the chance that they won’t eat enough and will lose too much weight.
In order to help your loved one keep a healthy weight maintained, you can incorporating tips such as:
- Offer smaller meals or snacks more often. Eating five or six times a day may be easier than getting the same amount of food in three meals
- Ensure they are taking a daily multivitamin
- Prepare things that are easy to eat, such as bite-sized finger foods that do not require utensils
- Trouble chewing or swallowing could be a choking risk, so talk to your loved one’s medial team or dietician who can recommend foods that are easier to eat
- Exercise can boost appetite; taking into consideration physical limitations, you can encourage your loved one to take walks or do simple chores to stay active
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