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Healthy Eating for Seniors and Older Adults

 
It can be difficult to wrap our minds around the concept of ‘healthy eating’ when we are constantly bombarded with “diet, diet, diet”!  Regardless of the fact that dieting is successful for some, for most of us, an ideal body weight is easier to maintain through the adoption of a healthy, practical and sustainable lifestyle.

Healthy eating contributes to the formation of happy, active and independent lives in older adults.  A nutritious diet ensures that our bodies receive the nutrients they need to stay strong.

Physical Changes As We Age

As we grow older, our bodies undergo a series of changes and we may encounter certain physical limitations which make it more difficult to eat as healthy as we’d like.  For some seniors, fresh cooking and grocery shopping tasks are exhausting, painful and maybe even impossible.  Perhaps you or your senior loved one can no longer drive to the grocery store, or stand for long periods of time to prepare food.  In these cases, we are lucky enough to have alternative service offerings available to us.  Consider the use of grocery delivery services, meal delivery services, seniors’ transportation services, or senior home care.

Even though eating healthy may be a slightly greater challenge in our elder years, the extra effort we need to expend far outweighs the negative consequences associated with an unhealthy lifestyle.

Nutrients and Supplements

As seniors, the vast majority of us now have slower metabolisms compared to 20 and 30 years ago.  With this in mind, the tricky part about maintaining a healthy weight as we age is the fact that now we require fewer calories but the same amount of nutrients on a daily basis.  We must find a way to consume all of the nutrients we always needed in a smaller amount of food – no simple task.  We can try to readjust our eating habits, but it is quite common for seniors’ diets to lack the required level of nutrients, in which case they can take vitamins, minerals, and supplements to make up for the deficiencies.

Reduced Risk of Disease

Although it is true that older adults and seniors are at risk of acquiring age related diseases such as heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes, a nutrient-rich diet can drastically reduce the chances of such diseases occurring.  A nutritious diet also makes us feel good and helps the body recover from illness and injury at a faster rate.

According to nutrition professionals, older adults and seniors require more calcium; zinc; vitamins D, B12, B6, C and E; fiber; and folate.

Vitamin D

The ultraviolet rays from the sun are converted into Vitamin D by our skin and bodies, but as we grow older our skin becomes less adept, making the need for a higher level of Vitamin D in our diets greater.

B-12

A common condition among seniors is atrophic gastritis (irritation leading to damage to the lining of the stomach) which makes it very difficult to absorb vitamin B-12 from food.  However, vitamin supplements of B-12 contain the synthetic form, as do fortified products such as cereals, which a body in this particular condition can absorb very well.

Simple Diet Adjustments for Maximum Nutrients

Recommended Additions:

  1. Include a bowl of whole-grain, fortified cereal in one of your meals every day.  This will add folate, zinc, vitamins E and B-12, and fiber to your diet.
  2. Drink 3 glasses of low-fat skim milk every day.  This will give your body vitamin D and calcium.  If you find it difficult to drink plain milk, drink chocolate milk or blended fruit shakes.  Since the requirements for vitamin D and calcium are high, you may need to take supplements to obtain the necessary amount.  Consult with your family physician before making any decisions.

Food Replacement Suggestions:

  1. Eat whole wheat bread instead of white.
  2. Eat more romaine lettuce or spinach instead of iceberg lettuce.
  3. Replace white rice with sweet potatoes, brown rice or basmati rice.
  4. Eat fruit or yogurt for dessert instead of pie or cookies.

Give Your Meals an Extra Nutrient Kick:

  1. Use tomato juice (low in sodium) instead of water when cooking soups or stews.
  2. Use undiluted nonfat evaporated milk in coffee or tea.  This type of milk has three times the amount of calcium that light cream has, and less than half the calories.
  3. Add chopped dark greens to your dishes (spinach, kale, boc choy, etc.)

Tips to Quick, Easy and Healthy Eating

Cooking good meals is time consuming and tiring.  It is also a task that requires us to be on our feet for an extended period of time, which may be physically impossible for many older adults and seniors.  Here are a few tips to help you eat healthy, without the need to cook full meals on a daily basis.

  1. Plan your meals in advance.
  2. Stock up on healthy snacks.  Buy ready-to-eat cereals, instant oatmeal, whole wheat crackers, rice cakes, dried fruits, juice boxes, etc.  Fill your refrigerator with convenient foods such as baby carrots, yogurts, fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, pre-washed and cut bagged salad mixtures.
  3. Cook enough for leftovers.  When you cook soups, stews, roasts, pasta sauces or casseroles, make enough for leftovers.  Freeze the leftovers in individual portions in small containers.  Preheat and eat at a later date.
  4. Keep some frozen dinners on hand for quick and easy meals.  Even through there are many nutritious and low fat frozen meals available, be aware of the fact that the majority tend to be high in fat and sodium.  Read the labels to make a healthy choice.

Healthy Food Recommendations

Healthy Breakfast Food Suggestions

  • Egg (Omega 3 for low cholesterol, and have poached or hard-boiled)
  • Choose whole wheat bread over white for your toast
  • Fruits
  • Homemade fruit shake (made with skim milk or 1%, a variety of fruits – frozen berry mixtures work very well – high calcium orange juice and low-fat, plain yogurt)
  • Oatmeal
  • Cereal with low-fat buttermilk, skim milk, or 1%
  • Raisin or bran muffins

Healthy Lunch Food Suggestions

  • Cheese (on the side or added to your sandwich)
  • Lentil, barley, and herb soups
  • Steamed brown rice
  • Chicken breast
  • Vegetables
  • Spinach salad mix with low fat or vinaigrette dressing
  • Tuna or salmon
  • Quesadillas – whole wheat
  • Whole wheat roti (a type of flat bread)

Healthy Dinner Food Suggestions

  • Fish
  • Tofu (stir fry)
  • Basmati or brown rice
  • Couscous or Quinoa
  • Vegetables (steamed)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Lean meats (baked, boiled, or grilled)
  • Chicken, beef, vegetable casseroles

Healthy Snack & Dessert Food Suggestions

  • Unsalted nuts
  • Low-fat yogurt and puddings
  • Veggies and dip
  • Fruit
  • Fruit smoothies and milkshakes
  • Berry and nut mixtures
  • Low sodium or homemade soups
  • Low or non-fat granola bars

Eating healthy improves your way of life:  the way you look, the way you feel, the way your body functions, and your physical capabilities.  Simple changes in your diet can make the world of difference to enhance the quality of your lifestyle.  Accompany your new healthy diet with a physical exercise routine.  If you need help creating an exercise plan that works for you, visit your local seniors' health club or contact a personal trainer for seniors'.

It’s never too late to make improvements.  Start small and allow your body to become accustomed to the changes you make.  Think of your diet enhancements as a new and improved way of life (as opposed to a quick fix).  Let yourself grow into your new health plan and make the most of the benefits you feel.

Embrace your aging years and enjoy an all-round, healthier lifestyle.
 

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