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Diet Must Haves for the Elderly

Diets aren’t just about losing weight. Keep reading to learn what your elderly loved one’s diet should include for optimal health.

As we get older, our calorie needs decrease while the amount of vitamins and nutrients that we need to stay healthy increases.

Today we’re going to discuss the nutrients that your elderly loved one needs in order to help stave off medical conditions and promote an overall healthy lifestyle.

Healthy fats

“Avoid fat to shed fat.” That’s a philosophy we’ve been told for years and years – that a low-fat diet is the key to losing weight, managing cholesterol and ultimately preventing health problems. Though in some respect this is true, it’s the type of fat that really matters.  Trans and saturated fats are considered to be the bad fats that can increase cholesterol levels and a person’s risk of certain diseases. Conversely, good fats such as monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and Omega-3 fatty acids can protect the heart and promote overall health. Be sure to incorporate sources of good fat into your elderly family member’s diet. These foods include avocados, nuts, fish, spinach and olive oil, just to name a few.

Fruits and vegetables

More often than not, older adults aren’t eating the right amount of calories each day. To this point, many fall short when it comes to getting the daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

Encourage your loved one to eat more fruits and veggies by introducing more fresh or frozen produce into his or her diet. These foods are packed with nutritional benefits, including fiber, which can help promote regularity (a common problem among the older population), and can help reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

Grains

Though carbohydrates often get a bad rap, they’re a vital cog to the overall nutritional wheel. However, not all carbs are created equal. It’s important that you’re smart with the carbs that you choose and opt for whole grain varieties rather than processed white flour options. Whole grain alternatives are nutrient dense and have more fiber. Older adults should consume 6 -7 ounces of grains each day. As a reference, one slice of whole wheat bread is considered to be an ounce.

Protein

When a person’s diet lacks protein, it increases the risk for lower immune function and osteoporosis, particularly in women.

Protein is a building block that can help improve mood, boost resistance to anxiety, depression and stress, and can help promote a sound mind. But it’s important to avoid eating an excess of low-quality protein sources like processed red meat products, including bacon, hot dogs and salami. These can increase the risk of heart disease, cancer and other health conditions. Instead, opt for more natural protein sources, such as chicken, lean cuts of beef and pork.

If your loved one isn’t a fan of animal protein, have no fear – protein comes in a variety of sources, including lentils, beans, eggs, seeds, milk and cheese.

Water

The sensation of thirst decreases as a person ages, which makes drinking adequate amounts of water essential for preventing dehydration. It may seem obvious, but the best solution to avoid dehydration is drinking plenty of water and avoiding fluids such as soda or fruit juices, which add empty calories to a person’s diet. Leave a note in your loved one’s kitchen as a reminder to drink water throughout the day. Proper hydration can help avoid urinary tract infections, constipation, and in some cases, confusion.

These are just a few of the essential pieces to promoting and maintaining overall good health. If you have questions about improving or modifying your loved one’s diet, contact his or her primary care physician.

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St. Barnabas Health System
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Gibsonia, PA 15044

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