Incorporating a balance of nutritious food choices in daily meal planning is essential at every stage of the life cycle. Yet for older adults who are at a greater risk of chronic health issues and changes in muscle mass and bone density, eating well is all the more so a critical component of being able to stay active and healthy. Many associate healthy eating with restricting calories and weight gain, however, a well-balanced diet does much more than just that. While providing the body with vital nutrients to regulate its systems, it also positively affects brain function and emotional health.
So, what should go into a well- planned meal? How can caregivers ensure they provide the adults in their care with the nutrients they need to stay active, feel energetic, and maintain healthy functioning? Which foods are best enjoyed or restricted?
In an effort to promote public health, the USDA has published a comprehensive guide to healthy eating for all ages, entitled Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Using this thorough guide, along with exploring the USDA website entitled MyPlate, older adults can find helpful meal-planning tips, important nutrition information, and key recommendations that support a healthy lifestyle. Read on to explore some practical tips and pointers on how seniors can make healthy food choices part of daily life.
Plan meals with food group variety.
Healthy eating starts with a balanced diet that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, proteins, and dairy or soy alternatives. Each food group offers a combination of nutrients that supply the body with the vitamins and minerals it needs to regulate its functions. The Food Group Gallery helps adults categorize foods they are familiar with and incorporate a proper balance of numerous food group items into their daily diet. MyPlatePlan is another helpful tool seniors can use to tailor meal planning and help them efficiently shop for ingredients. Even while making an effort to vary food choices, it is important that caregivers consult with a qualified dietary advisor who can offer guidance on necessary intake and special considerations.
Choose healthy snacks.
Many seniors benefit from eating two healthy snacks per day, which stabilizes blood sugar between meals, prevents overeating, and keeps their energy levels consistently high. Snacking on fruits and vegetables, as opposed to store-bought, processed foods that have plenty of added sugar, fats, and sodium, is a great way to integrate healthy food into daily living. Caregivers can help with chopping seasonal produce, or look out for pre-chopped varieties in local supermarkets. Some nutritious snacking options include:
- Veggies with hummus, Try carrots, celery, or cucumber sticks paired with a variety of hummus flavors that are available on the market.
- Citrus fruits, Sliced oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, helping to boost immunity and fight off infection.
- Unsalted nuts, Almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pistachios are great heart-healthy options that keep fresh for a while and need no prep.
- Cottage cheese , Enjoy a great source of protein and calcium that can be paired with whole grain crackers to be more filling, or with an added spoonful of jam or berries for flavor.
- Smoothies, Get the combined benefits of fresh fruits and yogurt, while sneaking in some nutritious add-ins that are easily disguised. Try spinach, avocado, protein powder, and wheat germ for added nutritional value.
Eat with others.
When planning and cooking meals becomes a tiring chore, it’s time to be sure you’re eating in good company. Occasional potluck meals, where everyone brings one part of the meal, are a great way to make mealtime enjoyable and cooking a lot easier for seniors. There may also be dining options at a nearby senior center, community center, or religious facility, where attendees can enjoy a free or low-cost meal, while socializing as they eat.
Older adults don’t always notice when they get thirsty, putting them at risk of dehydration, even when it isn’t necessarily warm outside. Caregivers should supervise and make sure the adults they care for are drinking fluids on a regular basis, which ideally should be at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water over the day. While sugary drinks are not recommended, seniors can also keep hydrated by drinking natural juices, tea, soup, or even water-rich fruits and vegetables, such as fresh watermelon or cucumbers.
Avoid food that aren’t good for you.
This statement sounds obvious and unnecessary, yet it’s always important to emphasize those foods that negatively affect one’s well being. While sometimes convenient, pleasurable, or even more budget-friendly, these items are best avoided always, especially for older adults:
- Alcohol overconsumption can decrease brain volume, disrupt neurotransmitters, and lead to behavioral changes, memory loss and sleep difficulties.
- Mercury, found mostly in wild seafood, where the heavy metal can contaminate fish and have adverse effects on those who ingest it. Mercury toxicity concentrates the brain, kidneys and liver, and disrupts the central nervous system.
- Refined carbohydrates, such as white flour or sugar, can spike blood sugar and insulin levels. A study published in the medical journal entitled Nutrients has shown high glycemic overload can impair memory and has been linked with risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- Trans fats, While natural unsaturated fats in dairy and meat aren’t harmful, artificial trans fats in frosting, margarine, pre-packaged foods, shortening, and snack foods can harm the brain. Studies have found that artificial trans fat consumption increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline, reduction in brain volume, and poor memory.
Tackle a lack of appetite.
Age-related changes to the body can cause some adults to feel full sooner than they did when they were younger and be less motivated to eat proper, filling meals. It is also possible for medication side effects to include lack of appetite, which makes it worthwhile for seniors to discuss alternative medication options with their doctors, when available.
If food becomes unappealing, caregivers can look out for ways to vary flavors, textures, and colors in each meal. Taking a trip to a local supermarket is a great way to look out for seasonal vegetables, fruits, or seafood options that haven’t been eaten or available in a while. Alternative cooking methods for familiar foods, such as quickly steaming vegetables instead of broiling, allows them to maintain their crunch and offers texture variety.
It is also essential that older adults keep physically active. Engaging in routine exercise burns calories and can help bring on hunger, ultimately motivating adults to take advantage at scheduled mealtimes.
Learn about senior food programs.
Through the Older Americans Act and other programs, such as Meals on Wheels, seniors can access local resources that ensure healthy eating and ease daily meal preparation. These programs often include group and home-delivered meal options to ensure that healthy meal choices are easily accessible. Visit the Eldercare Locator to search for resources in your area.
Here we’ve addressed some practical pointers and helpful resources that can encourage seniors and their caregivers to incorporate healthy food choices into daily living. With increased focus and a bit of effort, nutritious eating can become less overwhelming, more accessible, and perhaps an enjoyable lifestyle upgrade.
Feel free to further explore our website, where you can find additional caregiver resources and a variety of timely topics such as medical assistance, personal care, and senior companionship.
Reach out to us today to learn more about our team of caring and experienced personal caregivers, registered nurses, and home health aides who expertly serve families just like yours. We’re here for you and happy to assist your family. Give us a call at (845) 425-6555 with any questions.