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Optimal nutrition can increase mental acuteness, boost the immune system, expedite recovery from injuries, and manage chronic health problems more efficiently. Homewatch CareGivers talks with a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach to identify some of the most prevalent problems — and solutions — related to senior nutrition.
Aging affects the body’s ability to produce specific enzymes that help to digest and breakdown foods. “Many seniors have problems chewing and swallowing, due to dentures and other physical challenges,” explains Amanda Berthod, Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach. To ensure optimal absorption of nutrients, senior diets should focus on foods that are easy to chew, swallow and digest. “The elderly should also be aware of the effects of medicines and supplements — as some can interfere with vitamin and mineral absorption,” Berthod noted.
With a higher risk for chronic disease, seniors should also avoid specific food additives, and increase intake of Anti-oxidants. Berthod recommends that family members encourage their loved ones to eliminate frozen foods and packaged meals from their diet — replacing them with whole foods that are high in antioxidants, such as berries, legumes and dark-colored vegetables.
The elderly often lose their senses, which means that they are less likely to taste certain flavors, like salt and sugar. As a result, they will often overuse these two items. Overuse of salt and sugar leads to serious health problems — such as type 2 diabetes and poor heart health — so remove the saltshaker from the table, encourage the use of herbs for flavor, and limit the amount of sugary treats available.
“Unfortunately, many seniors also lack the resources necessary to purchase or attain healthy food sources,” Berthod added. Fixed incomes and the lack of available transportation often leave those who are aging without means to shop frequently enough to maintain a nutritious diet. Berthod suggests utilizing organizations such as meals on wheels or Project Angel Heart to help those in physical or financial need receive healthy, home-cooked meals.
“It’s important to provide your senior loved one with healthy, simple and affordable meal options and recipes,” Berthod explained. She also suggests preparing meals ahead of time, and in bulk — so that leftovers can be frozen and thawed for future meals. Click here to see Berthod’s favorite (and quick) recipes.
Eating right is a fundamental part of your loved one’s overall wellness. The following nutritional guidelines are recommended by the USDA and the Health and Research Center of TUFTS University:
1. Proteins maintain and repair muscles, nails and skin and aid in recovery from injury. Poultry, meat, fish, lentils, nuts, seeds, eggs and cheese are healthy sources of protein. Seniors should eat two or more servings of protein per day.
2. Carbohydrates help internal organs to function properly, and maintain energy levels. Fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and whole grains are all great sources of carbohydrates. Seniors should consume six or more servings per day of whole grains, and three or more daily servings of dairy.
3. Fiber helps to maintain the dietary track, is proven to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and helps the body to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Fiber can be found in whole grain products, fruits, vegetables and beans. Seniors should consume three or more servings of bright-colored vegetables per day, and two or more daily servings of deep-colored fruit.
4. Healthy fats protect cells and help to maintain energy levels. These can be found in some fish, oils, nuts, and food fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. It’s important to know the difference between healthy fats, and unhealthy fats and oils — which should be consumed sparingly.
5. Staying hydrated is essential to proper nutrition. Fluids help the body to digest food and maintain a normal temperature. Water is the best fluid for the body, but nutrients and antioxidants can also be found in green tea, and fruit and vegetable juices.
How Homewatch CareGivers Can Help
Homewatch CareGivers is a premier caregiver agency, providing home care for all ages. We understand that you want only the best care and optimal health for your loved one. Our caregiver services offer transportation assistance — to get your loved one to the store for healthy grocery shopping — and personal home care that can provide cooking and mealtime assistance. We also offer in-depth nutritional assistance and meal planning through our ClientCare Coordination program.