Assisting with senior nutrition.

Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution or following a specific health scare, there are many reasons we promise ourselves to eat better going forward. For seniors who may be dealing with or trying to stave off various health issues, better nutrition is particularly important.

There are two equally important components to improving one’s diet: what you should be eating and what you should stay away from. The second category is relatively easy to list: saturated fats, salt, added sugars – all the delicious things added to pre-prepared and processed foods. Sigh…

Understanding what nutrients your body needs and how to get them can be a bit more difficult to keep track of, but is no less important to make sure our bodies remain in top condition as we age.

Nutrients and Vitamins for Healthy Seniors

Before getting into ideas for healthy foods for seniors to eat, it’s important to understand the key nutrients and vitamins that make certain foods healthy and particularly beneficial for seniors. 

Calcium: Calcium is essential to aging adults as it keeps teeth and bones strong. In the event of a fall, our chances of preventing broken hips and fractures decreases when our bones are strong rather than brittle. Dairy products are the primary foods that bring calcium into our systems.

Vitamin D: For many years, scientists believed the primary utility of vitamin D was to assist with calcium absorption from food substances. Recent research studies reveal vitamin D can also bring down recurring pain, heart issues, fight illness and infection and even eliminate cancer. Sunlight is the most natural and recommended vitamin D source. Aging reduces one’s ability to harvest the vitamin D benefits of sunlight, making dietary intake imperative. Mackerel, tuna, cheese, beef liver and egg yolks are naturally rich in vitamin D, though each of these have their drawbacks.

Vitamin B12: The American Geriatrics Society has advised that vitamin B12 deficiencies may increase the risks of dementia among older adults. The body’s natural digestive acids become less competent at extracting food-related vitamin B12 after the age of approximately 50, making it important to keep a constant check on vitamin B12 levels. The National Academy of Medicine also reports that Vitamin B12 also plays an important role in brain and nerve function as well as red blood cell formation, helping to prevent stroke and heart disease. Our bodies can get vitamin B12 from foods like meat, fish, eggs and dairy. 

Vitamin E: Vitamin E also lessens the risk of heart disease and may help with preventing cancer. It is an antioxidant that fights off free radicals that do cellular damage and contribute to clogged arteries. Vitamin E is found in various nuts and nut-based oils such as sunflower seeds and sunflower oil, almonds, peanuts and peanut butter, safflower and soybean oils. Dark greens such as beet greens, collard greens and spinach are also rich in vitamin E.

Vitamin E: Vitamin C helps the formation of both white and red blood cells, making it essential for keeping common sicknesses and infections at bay. It also helps in the keeping at bay of many types of cancer and macular degeneration. Vitamin C is plentiful in certain fruits and vegetables such as oranges, strawberries, peppers, broccoli and brussels sprouts.

Vitamin K: Studies have shown that vitamin K plays an active role in osteoporosis prevention. It does this by being responsible for the production of osteocalcin, a bone generating protein. Along with warding off bone fractures, Vitamin K aids in blood clotting. Leafy vegetables are the most common source of vitamin K intake.

Vitamin A: The eye benefits greatly from vitamin A. The photoreceptors in the retina specifically improve in function with optimal levels of vitamin A. When a vitamin A deficiency is experienced, blurry vision can occur. Leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli, as well as orange and yellow vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkin are good sources of vitamin A.

Omega-3: Natural omega-3 fatty acids have been linked with various brain and heart benefits, from enhanced flow of blood and increased brain cell growth to lesser mood swings and stronger memory. With age, unfortunately, our cells’ ability to intake Docosahexaenoic acids (DHA) and other omega-3 acids diminishes, leaving the mind malnourished and negatively influencing both memory retention and brain function. Fishes such as tuna, sardines, herring and salmon are good sources of Omega-3s and other DHAs.

Protein: Among the health issues are likely to crop up during one’s later years, the inability to build or regenerate muscle is often an underappreciated one that can make it harder to recover from an injury or surgery. Muscle mass loss also impacts the efficiency of the body’s immune system in fighting off disease and illness. Beef, beans, chicken, and almonds are good sources of natural protein.

Fiber: Fiber serves several purposes. It fills us up more quickly than empty carbohydrates (carbohydrates that lack nutrition), aids in digestion and even lowers cholesterol levels. Fiber forms the bulk of our waste, so encourages our intestinal tract to continue functioning properly. Fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains all contain fiber.

Whether as a prophylactic or in boosted levels when rehabbing from an injury or illness, seniors should consult their physician or a nutritionist about the right levels of each of these nutrients. When eating healthy foods is insufficient or not an option due to interference with medications, supplements should be considered.

Eat Better to Feel Better

An improved diet can help us feel better all around, even without considering the specific benefits on a nutrient-by-nutrient basis. A feeling of rejuvenated health often starts with better blood flow throughout our bodies and for this reason, most healthy nutrition plans focus on heart health. 

Heart healthy foods tend to cluster in several distinct groups. These groupings include those of fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains, and fish. Here is a quick rundown of the best candidates for improving your heart health through better nutrition.

  • In the fruit category, grapes are an excellent starter. This may include a glass of red wine, but seniors should be mindful that the negative side effects of alcohol, including potential interactions with medication. Most types of berries are also excellent food sources for improving cardiac performance over time.
  • Certain members of the nut family provide an excellent combination of fatty acids and fiber in one neat, ready-to-eat food source. Almonds and walnuts are the two nut species that are most often cited for their positive dietary effects.
  • When it comes to vegetables, there are many candidates to select from. Carrots and spinach have been favorite health foods for generations, even before specific heart-focused regimes became common. Tomatoes and red bell peppers illustrate an important factor in choosing healthy vegetables—many of the most colorful ones offer the largest boosts.
  • Grains is a tricky category for a nutrition-conscience eater because of the many opportunities for so-called empty calories. Nonetheless, there are some healthy options. Oatmeal is well-known for its health benefits, as is flaxseed, which can be often be added to cereals or crackers. Brown rice offers lots of fiber and vitamin content. Dark beans such as black beans or kidney beans are not technically grains, but legumes such as these can be used in place of less nutrient-rich grains to offer nutritional benefits.
  • Salmon stands at the pinnacle of the various fish choices, with tuna running a respectable second place. Either of these selections offers the high omega-3 counts that dieticians so heartily recommend to their patients. Ease of preparation is another benefit of both of these, since they are the most commonly canned fish products and thus offer significant time-saving and storage benefits over other fish products that are mostly found as either fresh or frozen and require more prep time.
  • The need to stay hydrated cannot be overstated, as dehydration is a frequent cause for hospitalizing in the elderly and can result in mental confusion and exhaustion among other symptoms. Staying hydrated is as simple as drinking 8-10 glasses of water per day. 

Always keep in mind that ingredients are important to a healthy lifestyle, but preparation counts for a lot as well. Most of the items named in this article provide the greatest benefits if they are used in a raw or minimally prepared fashion, and always go easy on the salt.

Healthy Snacks Can Taste Good Too

Most nutrition guides tend to focus on meals, but unless your elderly loved one is secretly a rabbit, leafy greens are hardly an inspiring snack choice. Whether sitting around the house or on the go, we all like to snack. With a little time and attention to what we are eating, we can make healthier snack decisions. 

Here are a few healthy snack ideas to replace or enhance the poor choices we tend to make:

  • Eat more nuts and dried fruit. Make your own Trail Mix with walnuts, almonds, figs, raisins, sunflower seeds. Consider eating with a low-fat yogurt.
  • Low-sugar and low-fat snack bars are another way to sneak nuts and dried fruit, as well as some high-fiber whole grains into our diets.
  • Whole-grain crackers are great with a low-fat cheese or hummus. Almond butter is another low fat, high protein snack.
  • Fresh fruits are always recommended (unless your doctor tells you otherwise!).
  • Air-popped popcorn, or at least a low-fat bag, is a relatively healthy option. For flavor, skip the butter and add some pepper or another spice you like.
  • On the go, take whole grain pretzels, a hardboiled egg, rice cakes, veggie chips or other low-fat, low-sodium, low-sugar foods. 

One popular method for improving one’s diet is to challenge yourself or a friend to swap one unhealthy snack per day for a healthy one; the little changes can add up and become healthy routines.

Keep an Eye on Loved Ones’ Nutrition

If you notice that an elderly parent or loved one is losing weight, feeling sluggish or otherwise not showing their usual levels of pep, it may be a sign of malnutrition.

Malnutrition is a particular risk among seniors who have difficulty doing regular food shopping, opening cans and jars, peeling and slicing, standing over a counter or stove, or any other regular steps in the food preparation process. As a result, they may settle for pre-prepared foods that are often high in sodium, fat and sugar. 

Concern for an aging relative’s nutrition is one of the leading reasons families, particularly those who live out-of-state, call us and inquire about home health aides’ services. A HHA can either accompany a senior citizen to the supermarket or do shopping for them. The homecare aide can unpack groceries and prepare fresh meals for their client. Many of our clients will take a few hours of service around mid-day, which allows time for the caregiver to assist with errands, serve lunch and set out a healthy snack and a nutritious dinner to be heated up after they have left. 

Many families don’t realize that long-term care insurance policies and even some Medicare Advantage plans will cover the cost of these services. However, these third-party payors recognize the importance of proper nutrition in keeping their members healthy and preventing physical and mental deterioration. 

If your aging parent lives in South Florida and would benefit from assistance with grocery shopping and meal prep, call us today and speak with one of our care specialists. Proper nutrition is vital to your loved one’s health; let us help you provide the support your senior needs.