Malnutrition weakens the body and mind, and leaves many people vulnerable to a wide range of health issues. The problem is especially acute for older Americans since several factors make it harder to eat right. We don’t have as much of an appetite as we used to, we don’t always feel up to cooking (or may not feel like cooking meals for one), and being on a fixed income can make it a challenge to eat well on a budget. The nutritionists at Princeton Health Care Center have some advice for eating healthier in your golden years.
Let’s start with a fundamental that everyone including seniors should take notice of. Most of us don’t get enough liquids. The problem often worsens as we age, since our appetite decreases and we aren’t as thirsty as we used to be. Dehydration can lead to many health issues, including memory issues, fever, and muscle cramps, just to name a few. In addition to adequate hydration, make sure you’re also replenishing your electrolytes.
Prepared foods can seem like a blessing, especially when you’re too tired or preoccupied to cook. Those foods are often loaded with sugar, salt, and fat, which makes them tasty but also means they’re not doing your body or your health any favors. Stick to fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, beans, and lean meat that’s high in protein without unhealthy fats. Choose a day to prepare foods ahead of time, or get reacquainted with your crock pot; either one is a great way to keep cooking simple and healthy.
Know What Not to Eat
Three words: sugar, salt, and fat. Our bodies need these nutrients, but they often don’t need as much as we’re giving them. Many foods have excessive amounts of each added, and each can cause problems if not moderated. Sugar can contribute to or complicate diabetes. Salt is a prime culprit in high blood pressure. Fat can cause or exacerbate heart and circulatory issues. You don’t need to cut these out altogether, but you should be mindful of how much of each is in your diet.
Your plate should look like a rainbow. That’s because different proteins, fruits, and vegetables give us different nutrients naturally. Spinach, tomatoes, carrots, corn, some lean chicken or turkey, a bit of dairy — get plenty of variety. Your taste buds won’t get bored, and your body will thank you.
Indulge in Moderation
Let’s be honest. We’re human. We know we should eat better, but the bad stuff tastes so good! Each of us has our guilty pleasures. Giving them up altogether can make it hard to make healthy choices because then that salad or that serving of steamed broccoli feels like a deprivation. Have the treats you love, but practice portion control (a couple of pieces of bacon, a small dish of ice cream) or make smart substitutions (turkey bacon or low-fat ice cream, again in moderation).
Eating is a social activity, so dine with friends! If you’re a caregiver or friend of a senior citizen, get together for lunch or dinner on a regular basis. You’ll both enjoy the companionship, but it’s also a great way to build accountability (gently). If you’re both trying to eat better, you can encourage each other to make healthy choices while you catch up with friends and family over a delicious meal.
Use the Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program
We wish more seniors knew about this program because it’s a great and affordable way to encourage healthy eating. The West Virginia Department of Agriculture runs the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program in tandem with West Virginia WIC. It helps income-eligible West Virginians over 60 purchase fresh veggies, fruits, and herbs in-season.
Get a Helping Hand
If your loved one is in an assisted living or long-term care facility, you’re probably concerned with the quality of the meals they’re receiving. It’s an important part of their health, after all, but it’s also a quality of life issue. Good food does more than sustain us; it’s one of life’s simple pleasures. The qualified dietitian and dietary manager at Princeton Health Care Center consider each resident’s dietary needs in conjunction with their physician, ensuring great food that’s tasty and nutritionally sound. Questions about our services? Call 304-487-3458 or email us.