Most people struggle with maintaining a healthy diet comprised of all the necessary nutrients their bodies need, but seniors in particular can feel challenged. As our bodies age, our metabolisms start to slow down – with a major decrease in efficiency around the age of 40 and again at 60 – and our nutritional needs increase or start to vary. This combination of occurrences causes a double-whammy that many seniors are not prepared to manage: not only do they consume too many calories due to the metabolism drop, but they also consume too few healthy nutrients.
Thankfully, addressing these new health issues and concerns does not have to be a hardship. With the right planning, care, and support from others, any senior can start eating better and improving the nutritional value of each meal.
Here are 10 tips that every senior should know when it comes to good nutrition and eating habits:
- Reduce sodium: First and foremost, seniors need to reduce sodium intake. Too much sodium in a diet leads to all sorts of health problems, especially in the elderly, from high blood pressure to chronic migraines and aches. Be mindful of the sodium levels in your food and ask restaurants for nutritional guide sheets before ordering. You might be surprised to find how many meals prepared out of the house contain large sodium percentages.
- Healthy cholesterol: Nutritionists have been saying for years that not all fat is bad for you, and this lesson still applies to seniors. Much of our heart health hinges on having healthy levels of “good” cholesterol. You should not simply avoid all fatty foods but rather be mindful of how much you eat.
- Strong bones: Calcium and vitamin D can do great things for the strength of your bones. Seniors are vulnerable to developing skeletal issues, like osteoporosis. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that elders drink at least four glasses of dairy milk – or any beverage with the nutritional equivalent – to fight back against osteoporosis and other health conditions common with aging.
- Fiber intake: A healthy supply of fiber is essential for maintaining our digestive systems. When fiber is misbalanced, it can result in constipation and general discomfort. Eating fiber rich foods in the morning, like certain breads and cereals, is an easy way that many seniors keep up their fiber intake as they get older.
- Protein for power: Recent developments in nutritional sciences have revealed that protein may be instrumental in not just muscle growth but also immune system strength. For seniors, a powerful immune system is a must, as even a slight illness can eventually lead to serious complications. If eating a hearty steak each day is not feasible for an elder, as it often is not, other options are available, like yogurt, eggs, and some legumes.
- Not so sweet: Sugary and dry foods can be real menaces to the diets of many elders. Offering little nutritional benefits, sugar gives a burst of energy followed by a “crash” that can leave elders feeling downright miserable or, worse yet, tamper with their blood sugar levels dangerously. Dry foods, like potato chips and pretzels, can disrupt digestion or lead to choking. Steer clear of these types of food as much as is reasonable.
- Vitamins, minerals, and more: While you are avoiding sugary treats, start thinking about the basic vitamins and minerals you do need. Fruits and vegetables are a great source for many of the basic essentials, but some can be more difficult to find. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, are good for preventing heart disease and arthritis, but might only be available for an elder in the form of a supplement.
- Stay hydrated: The average senior needs roughly 12% more water than the average adult. Rather than having 8 glasses of water a day, an elder should have 9 or 10 to make up the difference. Seniors are also more likely to become dehydrated due to medication use, illness, and general metabolic changes. Keep a bottle of water with you at all times you leave your home or nursing care facility. An easy way to get 9 glasses a day is to drink one before, during, and after each meal.
- Exercise: Physical activity and physical therapy are essential to maintaining an elder’s health when used in conjunction with better dieting. Our bodies will only slow down so long as we allow it. Create a safe and enjoyable exercise routine with other elders or at a specialized facility to stay active, healthy, and happy.
- Team up: Anyone who has ever gone on a diet will admit that it is the most difficult when taken on alone. When you decide it is time to change up your nutritional intake and eating habits, ask friends and family members to see if they want to do the same. By dieting together, you will be less likely to give into food temptations and more likely to stick to your plan.
Make Dietary Changes Simple with King Street Rehab
At King Street Rehab, our Westchester County Rehab Center has been helping patients and elders adjust to healthier diets and nutritional schedules for three generations. Our rehabilitation and long-term care facility provides a variety of treatment options and world-class accommodations, including an in-house dining room that can cater to any patient’s specific dietary needs. We enjoy being able to sit down with a client and build an entire dish or menu just for them. From check-in to check-out, our goal is to work closely with your family and to prioritize safety, progress, and health.