Good nutrition adds years to life and life to your years. As people age, their diets may need to change, especially if their diets are not well-balanced. Doctors generally recommend a well-balanced diet for older adults that include a variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains to maintain and improve overall health. The benefits from eating a healthy diet can include increased mental acuteness, higher energy levels, resistance to illness, and better management of chronic health problems. In addition to eating a healthy variety of foods, there are also a few specific things a caregiver can incorporate into their loved one’s diet to boost his or her health. Some older adults may even have different challenges to face such as a loss of appetite with unhealthy weight loss, problems chewing, or a need to reduce fat and sugar with certain chronic conditions and we hope to provide some assistance to those challenges.
Here are some tips to remember for a healthy diet:
Increase fruits and vegetables. – The fiber, vitamins, and enzymes present in fresh plants are best for all of us. For those with chewing or dental issues, try steaming the vegetables to make them softer.
Make lunch the big meal of the day. – Often by dinner, older adults are too tired to finish meals. They are also more prone to digestive issues and a large meal late in the evening might interfere with a good night’s rest. Doctor’s often recommend putting on more calories earlier in the day rather than in the evening or before bed.
Stay hydrated. – Water is an important nutrient too! It’s important to maintain the body’s fluid levels. This can be done by sipping on liquids throughout the day. Water, tea, and coffee are better choices than fluids containing sugar or salt. Fruits and vegetables also naturally hydrate.
Eat whole grains. – When making a decision about which breads to choose, always go for the one higher in whole grains. These take longer to digest and will keep your blood sugar levels more stable.
Don’t skip meals. – Skipping meals usually makes someone eat more at the following meal and can drop blood sugar levels causing dizziness.
Eat smaller meals more often. – It is better for older adults to eat 5-6 small meals a day because this can reduce the highs and lows of insulin levels, encourage more calorie intake for those who have lost their appetites, assist with those who find it painful eating large meals or who have difficulty swallowing or breathing, and offer more opportunities to socialize with others.
For those needing to gain weight, increase calories in snacks. One idea is to make shakes with peanut butter, bananas, or chocolate!
Include healthy nutrients. Speak with your doctor about any necessary nutrients you should be adding to your diet. They can also be taken as a supplement with the correct dosage prescribed by your doctor.
Omega 3 fatty acids- These acids have been proven to reduce inflammation, which can cause heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. They can be found in flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, walnuts, and different types of fish.
Calcium- The need for calcium increases as we age. This is primarily to preserve bone health. It can also help lower blood pressure. Calcium can be found in orange juice, dairy milk, and leafy greens like kale and turnip greens.
Eat with your loved one. – No one likes to eat alone. It is possible there is a lack of interest in eating because a person is bored, lonely, or distracted by TV and could be a reason for weight loss. Stay with them and don’t rush them. For those who eat slowly, reheating food may help them to finish a meal that has cooled.
Incorporate softer foods for those with dental, chewing, or swallowing problems. – Make chunky stews that are soft and easy to eat. Shredded pork or chicken is a good option, but keep in mind that cutting up food before serving may increase the dignity of the meal. Smoothies are also a great choice for breakfast and are great for adding vitamins and nutrients.
A general rule of thumb is to stick to foods in their “whole” or natural state. Speak with your doctor about specific meal plans if you are having health issues. For some heart-related conditions, a reduced sodium (salt) diet may be needed. For those with diabetes, counting carbohydrates and looking for hidden sugar may be needed. Most of the time, a little sweet treat every now and then won’t hurt a thing. Dark chocolate is even actually good for you. Remember, you don’t have to change all of your eating habits at once. Start with small steps and try to make one good change per meal.