As we celebrate World Food Day on Oct.16, it is important to remember that food insecurity and hunger continue to be an ongoing challenge to people across the nation and the world.
Eating a healthy and balanced diet helps to improve overall health and well-being. Poor nutrition is attributed to various issues including increased fatigue, lower muscle mass, increased hypertension and impaired cognition. This can lead to limited mobility, the risk for falls and even reduced ability to care for yourself.
For seniors, budget constraints, mobility or cognitive issues, diminished appetites and lack of access to fresh produce can make it harder to get the nutrients they need. However, there are various ways that can help you get the nutrition you need at any age.
Talk to Your Doctor
Talk to your doctor about the type of diet that is best for you. Ideally, a healthy meal should include fruits and vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy and whole grains. However, some seniors may risk malnutrition when trying to follow dietary guidelines that limit added sugars, added salts and fats. Therefore, before you decide what to consume and what to avoid, make sure you have a nod from your doctor to prevent further complications.
As we get older, our sense of thirst diminishes. However, as you age, water is an increasingly critical component in various body processes, including digestion, metabolism, maintaining blood volume and joint lubrication. You should drink 6-8 cups of water daily, especially during warmer months. Water is ideal to keep you hydrated, but you can also consume other drinks such as fat-free milk, juices, tea and coffee. Be careful about sports drinks or other “healthy” water beverages, they often contain lots of sugar, salt and other unhealthy additives.
Consume Less Salt
While a little salt adds taste to food, too much salt can increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Instead of reaching for the saltshaker, trying adding onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, citrus, dill or fresh herbs. Also stay away from salty foods such as cured meats, jarred sauces and snacks. Consult your doctor about the amount of salt you should consume.
Check the Label
Another way to ensure that you are getting the nutrients you need is to check the labels when buying canned and packaged foods. Some of the foods may be labeled as healthy only for you to discover that they are loaded with sugar, fat and sodium. One easy way to do this is the 5/20 rule. When buying groceries, look for options that have 5% or less saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium and look for foods that have 20% or more fiber, vitamins A & C, calcium and iron.
Prepare Meals in Advance
Being unable to prepare meals is one of the things that make seniors miss essential nutrients. While take out may seem like an easy option, foods tend to come in extra-large portions and have unhealthy levels of fat, salt and sugar. Instead, prepare meals in advance in the company of caregivers or families, so that they can make sure that every nutrient in incorporated in the meal and that they are the right serving size. This way, meals can be frozen for later use and there’s less of a risk of food spoiling in the fridge. Visit your doctor to get a clear idea of the meal portion you are supposed to eat.
Use a Meal Delivery Service
Considering the things that the seniors grapple with, including memory loss, limited mobility and low moods, they may struggle to prepare meals. One option is to take advantage of various government meal delivery services. These include the likes of Meals on Wheels network, which is currently estimated to serve over 2.4 million homebound seniors and adults daily. Many commercial meal delivery services now offer menus that can be tailored to your specific nutritional needs.
It’s possible to eat healthy at every age. It simply requires understanding what your nutritional needs are and incorporating a little planning to create a food strategy that fits your life.