As we age, eating well can also be the key to a positive outlook and staying emotionally balanced.
- Today I want to talk about healthy eating which might be a lifestyle change for many.
- The benefits of healthy eating for seniors include increased mental acuteness, resistance to illness and disease, higher energy levels, a more robust immune system, faster recuperation times, and better management of chronic health problems.
Wholesome Eating Tips
Let’s face it. There’s a reason why so many seniors have trouble eating nutritiously every day. It’s not always easy! The following tips will help you “speak the language” of good nutrition and help you feel in control.
- Reduce sodium (salt) to help prevent water retention and high blood pressure. Look for the “low sodium” label and season meals with a few grains of coarse rock sea salt instead of being liberal with the saltshaker.
- Enjoy good fats. Reap the rewards of olive oil, avocados, fish, walnuts, flaxseed, and other monounsaturated fats. Research shows that the fat from these delicious sources protects your body against heart disease by controlling “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and raising “good” HDL cholesterol levels.
- Fiber up. Avoid constipation, lower the risk of chronic diseases, and feel fuller longer by increasing fiber intake. Your go-to fiber-foods are raw fruits and veggies, whole-grains, and beans.
- Avoid “bad” carbs. Bad carbohydrates—also known as simple or unhealthy carbs— are foods such as white flour, refined sugar, and white rice that have been stripped of all bran, fiber, and nutrients. Bad carbs digest quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels and short-lived energy. For long-lasting energy and stable insulin levels, choose “good” or complex carbs such as whole grains (barley, brown rice, whole wheat), beans, fruits, and vegetables.
- Look for hidden sugar. Added sugar can be hidden in foods such as bread, canned soups and vegetables, pasta sauce, instant mashed potatoes, frozen dinners, fast food, and ketchup. Check food labels for alternate terms for sugar such as corn syrup, molasses, brown rice syrup, cane juice, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, or maltose. Opt for fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned goods, and choose low-carb or sugar-free versions of products such as bread, pasta, and ice cream.
- Cook smart. The best way to prepare veggies is by steaming or sautéing in olive oil—it preserves nutrients. Forget boiling—it drains nutrients.
- Put five colors on your plate. Take a tip from Japanese food culture and try to include five colors on your plate. Fruits and veggies rich in color correspond to rich nutrients (think: sweet potato/camote, melons, spinach, tomato, corn).
Changing Dietary Needs
Every season of life brings changes and adjustments to the body. Understanding what is happening will help you take control of your nutrition requirements.
- Metabolism. Every year over the age of forty, our metabolism slows. This means that even if you continue to eat the same amount as when you were younger, you’re likely to gain weight because you’re burning fewer calories. In addition, you may be less physically active. Consult your doctor to decide if you should cut back on calories.
- Weakened senses. Your taste and smell senses diminish with age. Seniors tend to lose sensitivity to salty and bitter tastes first, so you may be inclined to salt your food more heavily than before—even though seniors need less salt than younger people. Use herbs and healthy oils—like olive oil—to season food instead of salt. Similarly, seniors tend to retain the ability to distinguish sweet tastes the longest, leading some to overindulge in sugary foods and snacks. Instead of adding sugar, try increasing sweetness to meals by using naturally sweet food such as fruit like pineapples, or vegetables such as bell peppers.
- Medicines and Illnesses. Prescription medications and illnesses can often negatively influence appetite and may also affect taste, again leading seniors to add too much salt or sugar to their food. Ask your doctor about overcoming side effects of medications or specific physical conditions.
- Digestion. Due to a slowing digestive system, you generate less saliva and stomach acid as you get older, making it more difficult for your body to process certain vitamins and minerals, such as B12, B6 and folic acid, which are necessary to maintain mental alertness, a keen memory and good circulation. Up your fiber intake and talk to your doctor about possible supplements.
- Loneliness and depression. Loneliness and depression affect your diet. For some, feeling down leads to not eating and in others it may trigger overeating. Be aware if emotional problems are affecting your diet, and take action by consulting your doctor or therapist.
- Death or divorce. Newly single seniors may not know how to cook or may not feel like cooking for one. People on limited budgets might have trouble affording a balanced, healthy diet. See the resources below for suggestions on cooking for one and easy, healthy menu selections.
Staying on the healthy eating track
Healthy eaters have their personal rules for keeping with the program. Here are some to keep in mind.
- Ask for help for your health’s sake. Know when you need a hand to make shopping, cooking, and meal planning assistance.
- Variety, variety, variety! Try eating and cooking something new as soon as boredom strikes.
- Make every meal “do-able.” Healthy eating needn’t be a big production. Keep it simple and you’ll stick with it. Stocking the pantry and fridge with wholesome choices will make “do-able” even easier.
- Set the mealtime mood. Set the table, light candles, play music, or eat outside or by a window when possible. Tidying yourself and your space will help you enjoy the moment.
- Break habits. If you eat watching TV, try eating while reading. If you eat at the counter, curl up to a movie and a slice of veggie pizza.