Good Nutrition Vital for Seniors
Oct 01, 2018 08:00AM
By Chef Elizabeth Buckingham
Good nutrition is essential throughout life, but there are a few key periods when it’s even more important. Young children, pregnant women, and seniors must make an extra effort to eat well and get enough rest, in order to keep bodies and brains as healthy as possible. Older adults need extra vitamins and minerals to support healthy aging, and it’s also important to maintain a healthy weight, since excess weight contributes to a wide variety of health challenges.
Perceptual changes, such as gradual loss of taste and smell, can have a huge impact on older adults’ overall enjoyment of eating. Making food preparation pleasant, eating with others, and using a wide variety of delicious herbs, spices, and citrus can help, as can experimenting with new foods and tastes gradually.
Cook at Home
Cooking at home is the best way to maintain a healthy weight; eating out should be an event reserved for special occasions, not an everyday occurrence. Aging adults should focus diet on good-quality whole foods: unlimited fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa, heart-healthy fats, like avocado, nuts, and seeds, and minimal amounts of high-quality meat and dairy. Eggs can be a great simple source of nutrition as they’re inexpensive and easy to cook; buy eggs from a local farm, if possible. Limit cured and processed meats, canned soups, frozen meals, cereals, and just about anything that comes in a box or package.
Limit Sugar and Beware of Packaged Foods
Above all else, limit sugar intake: sugar ages us prematurely, and many scientists believe that the monumental health crises our country is currently facing, including heart disease, diabetes, cancers, and more, are directly related to the massive quantities of added sugars we consume. Skip the soda and sweetened drinks and stick to black coffee, green tea, and water with a little lemon or cucumber.
Make good nutrition easy by doing as much as possible at one time; for example, after you grocery shop, spend a couple of hours prepping and chopping. Peel and cut raw vegetables into easy, snack-size portions, then place them at eye level in the fridge so they’re the first thing you see.
Avoid buying chips, cookies, candy, and other empty snacks; they provide zero nutrition and they’re easy to overeat. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain lots of beneficial fiber, which helps our digestive systems work better - especially important for older adults - and are thought to prevent many types of cancer. If your kitchen only contains healthy foods, then that’s what you’ll eat. Many seniors don’t feel like eating when they first wake up, and it’s important to listen to your body and eat when you’re actually hungry. If you take medication, however, it’s often essential to have a little food in your stomach. Make whole-grain toast and top it with peanut or almond butter and a sliced ripe banana. It’s not a heavy breakfast that weighs you down, but instead a good mix of healthy fats, protein and complex carbs to get your day started. Calcium intake becomes increasingly important with age, especially to keep bones healthy; whole-milk dairy and leafy greens are both excellent sources. Homemade smoothies are a great way to get lots of nutrition without complicated cooking techniques; a powerful blender makes this process much easier. Blend frozen fruit, whole-milk yogurt, a generous handful of spinach, kale or other leafy greens, and a handful of oats or nuts until smooth and creamy. Adding flax, hemp, or chia seeds boosts the nutrition content of this delicious drink even more.
Keep a reusable water bottle with you at all times and drink plenty of plain water throughout the day; dehydration is a serious problem that can especially affect older adults who may not feel thirsty. Proper hydration helps all the body’s systems function effectively and contributes to overall good health.
Many senior centers, libraries, and grocery stores offer cooking classes to help adults of any age learn how to take better care of themselves. Preparing and eating nutritious food shouldn’t be a chore, but should be something we do with joy and honor and respect for our bodies. Making an effort to eat well as you age might seem challenging at first, but the results are completely worth it. Your brain and body will thank you!