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Food for Thought: Healthy Eating Tips for the Elderly

It’s a common misconception that aging automatically means a decline in health. Today, we want to offer you some advice on how to help your loved ones stay healthy as they get older.

Although there are some diseases that do become more common as people age, aging in general does not necessarily mean that poor health is inevitable. There are plenty of older adults that live a full, happy and healthy life.

For seniors especially, a healthy, balanced diet is pivotal in maintaining good overall health.

As people age, their metabolism tends to decrease and they experience a change in taste and smell, as well a slower digestive system. All of these factors contribute to a change in the person’s relationship with food.

That’s why it’s important that our aging family members eat well-balanced meals each day and make a conscious effort to get a healthy dose of the following nutrients.

Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates have been vilified in recent years, but they should be a staple part of a healthy diet. However, it’s important to note that all carbs are not the same. There are two main types of dietary carbohydrates. The first are complex carbohydrates which are found in vegetables and grains. The second are known as simple sugars, which are found in sucrose (refined white sugar), fructose (the sugar naturally found in fruit) and lactose (milk sugar). All in all, it’s a good idea for seniors to get the majority of their carbohydrates from fruits, grains and vegetables, and to limit their indulgences in drinks and foods with any added sugar.

Protein – Not only is protein imperative for muscle health, it’s important for bone health as well. Good bone and muscle health in the elderly can lessen their chances of falling, and of being seriously injured if do experience a fall. Lean proteins, such as those found in poultry, fish, eggs and soy, are all great ways for your loved ones to maintain and rebuild their muscles and strengthen their bones.

Fat – Fat often times gets a bad rap. But, as with carbs, it’s important to know that not all fats are created equal. In fact, polyunsaturated fats that are found in oils, and monounsaturated fats that are found in foods like avocados and nuts, can help keep cholesterol levels low. However, saturated fats in various meats such as pork and beef, as well as shortening and cheese, should be eaten in moderation. Lastly, trans fats should be avoided as much as possible, as they have the ability to raise your LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower your HDL (good cholesterol). This type of fat, otherwise known as hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, can be found in many processed foods and margarine, for example.

Fiber – One way to make sure that your loved ones are getting their vitamins and nutrients is to encourage them to fill up on fiber. Fiber can help their digestive systems as well as give them energy to carry out their daily tasks. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are all great fiber sources.

Hydration – Although it’s not a nutrient, hydration is very important for the elderly. As a person ages, the associated physical changes can make them more likely to fall victim to dehydration.  Always be sure that your loved ones are getting enough water throughout the day, even if they say they don’t feel thirsty.

Although these are just a few of the important nutrients that are needed in order to maintain a healthy diet, in general, doctors will suggest that older adults should eat a variety of whole grains, proteins, fruits and vegetables to help maintain and improve overall health and to reduce their risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and osteoporosis. As the famous saying goes, “variety is the spice of life,” and this notion applies to eating for better health for seniors.

Sources:

http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/guide/healthy-aging-getting-nutrition-you-need

http://www.helpguide.org/life/healthy_aging_seniors_aging_well.htm

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St. Barnabas Health System
5850 Meridian Road
Gibsonia, PA 15044

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