In connection with National Nutrition Month, it’s time we talk about the best nutrition tips for seniors. Food is not only the fuel that keeps us healthy but can bring those we love to the table or remind us of a favorite memory. For seniors and caregivers, well-balanced meals can be difficult to coordinate but have immeasurable positive effects in the long-run. If you want to make some small but impactful changes, try these four key tips to improve your diet.
1. Separate Nutrient-Rich Calories From Empty Calories
Not all calories are created equal. At the end of the day, your body needs energy from calories to perform daily tasks, but some foods may not give you all the health benefits you need from each meal. Foods like chips, candy, alcohol, baked goods or soda can all be high-calorie, low-nutrient options that provide little to no health benefits.
Be mindful of foods that are labeled or marketed as “healthy” but high in calories. When in doubt, check the nutritional facts and ingredients.
That said, don’t rob yourself of a good treat. Instead, build your meal with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats—and then reward yourself with a small dessert to top it off! It’s okay to splurge on a sugary treat, but make sure your primary calorie intake comes from nutrient-dense sources.
2. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
Dehydration occurs when your body experiences an excess of fluid loss and doesn’t have enough backup fluids to rely on in the absence. Regularly drinking water is key to avoiding the subsequent effects of confusion, lack of energy, fainting, rapid heartbeat or shock. Drinking water may also be required to take certain medications or ensure their efficacy.
As such, make it a regular practice to keep a water bottle close throughout the day. Make it a challenge with a loved one to refill your bottle X times per day to keep yourself accountable!
3. Avoid Cholesterol, Embrace Healthy Fats
As you age, your body begins to produce more cholesterol. To minimize the effects of this natural change, it’s essential to talk about the risk factors that are in your control:
- Smoking: Nicotine lowers good cholesterol in the body.
- Weight: Weight gain can strain the body and heart, leading to an increase of high blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Diet: Healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and avocados can help you avoid high cholesterol, while red meats and high-fat or dairy products increase it.
- Activity levels: Cholesterol can increase with a lack of regular exercise.
With your diet as one of the primary factors in high cholesterol prevention, focus on eating lean meats, fruits, vegetables and nuts as your primary food sources.
4. Overcoming Common Eating Challenges
For some seniors, there may be barriers to healthy eating that need additional attention. Caregivers should keep in mind these common challenges and adjust accordingly:
- Chewing: If one has difficulty chewing or swallowing food, plan on cutting up the food ahead of time into smaller chunks where possible.
- Stress: Sometimes, the presentation of food options or a formal setting can cause stress for an individual. Minimize these triggers around food by simplifying your display and only providing the necessary utensils. Caregivers should also provide no more than two options for each meal, if decision-making has been known to also cause anxiety.
- Coordination: if general coordination or mobility is difficult, opt for more finger-foods instead of using utensils.
- Soreness: If an individual experiences soreness in the mouth, switch to softer foods like mashed sweet potatoes, watermelon or yogurts to help mealtime go more smoothly.
- Simple pleasures: Meals should be an enjoyable experience. Make sure to provide moments of happiness while eating to create positive associations with food. This can be anything from inviting a company to join a meal or enjoying a sweet snack after the main course.
Create a Plan
If you’re unsure where to start but want to develop a nutrition plan for yourself or a loved one, consider leveraging free online resources (from reputable sources) or using the guidance of professionals from care communities or health practices to guide your plan.
Check out our additional resources for even more healthy living guidance: