Everyone benefits from a healthy diet, according to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report. And what is interesting: A balanced, healthy diet consists of the same foods — no matter your age.
It’s common sense that everyone should avoid unhealthy foods. That’s especially true for seniors because, in seniors, the negative effects from unhealthy foods are heightened. The good news, though: By replacing less-healthy food with healthier ones, seniors can lower the chances of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, some cancers and even dementia.
The “2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans” has nutritional strategies urging us to eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and healthy fats, while lowering the intake of salt and sugar. In addition, exercise is cited as a means of helping our bodies do a better job of processing the foods we eat.
That said, aging issues complicate a senior’s ability to maintain a healthy intake of food that delivers good nutrition. There are problems we may not think of: Complications can range from budgetary pressures to the inability to chew and swallow. Even getting to get to a grocery store may prove difficult.
To varying degrees, we are all caregivers. It’s our responsibility to regularly check the well-being of seniors. Start by checking on their ready access to nutritious food. Can they get to the grocery store? Are they able to cook and prepare healthy meals? Are they eating regularly?
While living in their traditional homes, seniors often become isolated. Isolation adversely affects meal planning; this is especially true if seniors have lost their spouses. Instead of a complete dinner, they may be tempted to snack on unhealthy, convenient items that do not provide balanced nutrition.
Before continuing, I must make this admonition: None of my advice is intended to replace the insights and directions of a registered dietitian, nutritionist or the senior’s physician. When making dietary changes, always consult a health-care professional.
How to help our seniors
•You could prepare a week’s worth of dinners that a senior can thaw and heat up — Stew and soups are easy to prepare and freeze well. These are “comfort foods” — nutritious, balanced meals that are easy to chew and digest.
If you cannot spare the time, consider hiring a caregiver to come into the home to do meal preparations.
Meals-on-Wheels can deliver a week’s worth of frozen, prepared meals with breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Check online for info on meal deliveries in King County: www.seniorservices.org/foodassistance/MealsonWheels.aspx.
The volunteer drivers grow to become friends with the seniors to whom they deliver meals. For homebound seniors, a volunteer’s visit can turn into welcomed, weekly opportunity for social interaction.
•Provide transportation so your seniors are getting to the grocery store regularly — Help them stock up on healthy items; avoid prepared foods. Canned and frozen fruits (without syrup) and vegetables (without salt) are almost as nutritious as fresh.
For snacks, suggest fruit and cottage cheese or carrots, celery, broccoli and cauliflower cut for easy nibbling. Nuts and dried fruits are healthy snacks; that is, if the senior can chew them up.
•So there is company at mealtime, eat with your senior — Seniors eat more complete meals when they are in social settings. Think through opportunities for meals outside their home — at a senior center, for instance — or invite them to eat at your place, or go out to dinner at a favorite restaurant.
Here’s a link to the lunch menu at Seattle-area senior centers: www.seniorservices.org/foodassistance/CommunityDining/Menus.aspx.
•If isolation is contributing to a lack of interest in food and eating, a change in living environment could provide the answer — At many senior living communities, nourishing meals are served in social dining room settings.
•If ongoing help is required, caregivers in the home or at assisted-living facilities give seniors a hand at mealtimes — Dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other debilitating health issues can require ongoing meal supervision. Assistance ensures a senior’s safety and a nourishing diet.
•A soft diet or nutritional replacement drinks may be needed if there is difficulty chewing and swallowing — This is an instance where professionals can make recommendations; seek the advice of occupational and speech therapists.
•A website hosted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has suggestions for healthy senior nourishment: www.eatright.org/resources/for-seniors.
Eating well contributes to both physical and mental well-being. Make sure the seniors in your life are eating regularly and have access to healthy food options.
MARLA BECK is the founder and president of Andelcare Inc., which provides in-home elder care. Submit questions by calling (206) 838-1844 or via e-mail to email@example.com. To comment on this column, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.