If you’re worried about your aging parent or another elderly loved one maintaining a proper diet, there are a number of ways you can help. The following guidelines can help ensure that the elderly loved ones in your life are getting the nutrition they need for a long, healthy life.
1. LESS CALORIES, MORE NUTRIENTS
A person’s metabolism slows as he or she gets older and excess calories tend to show up on the waistline and other parts of the body. Plus, older adults tend to be less active than their younger counterparts, a factor that also contributes to weight gain.
The solution is to make the calories count more by choosing nutrition-dense foods, which are foods that have plenty of nutrients but relatively few calories. Whether it’s switching from whole milk to low-fat or skim milk, eating lean meats instead of fatty meats, or choosing fresh produce over foods with added sugar and salt, emphasizing nutrients rather than calories is a great place to start.
2. WHOLE FOODS, NOT PROCESSED FOODS
Another way an aging parent can boost his or her nutrition is by opting for whole foods whenever possible. Whole foods are often defined as having just one ingredient or foods that haven’t been processed or refined – or refined as little as possible. They’re foods that don’t have added salt, fat, or carbohydrates. These mainly include plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit and legumes but also include like fish, poultry, meet and eggs.
3. EAT MORE PROTEIN
Protein helps slow muscle loss and weakness that comes with age and adding high-protein foods to a senior’s diet should make it even healthier. It may be easiest for your loved one to opt for ready-to-eat protein options such as Greek yogurt, peanut butter, tuna, and cheese.
Eggs are another good protein source—one hard-boiled egg has just over six grams of protein. Nutrition experts recommend that seniors include protein in at least two meals or snacks per day.
4. CHOOSE FIBER-PACKED FOODS
You’ve probably heard that fiber is a great digestive aid, but recent studies have shown that this nutritious carbohydrate brings a host of other health benefits, such as combating inflammation and protecting against diabetes, heart disease and cancer. If your aging parent has high cholesterol, fiber also is an important addition to their diet because it absorbs fat from the blood.
Some high-fiber foods include:
- Beans and legumes
- Fruits, nuts and vegetables such as apples, berries, broccoli, greens, and pecans.
- Fresh, whole, and unprocessed foods are generally higher in fiber.
5. HYDRATION IS KEY
It would be hard to find any nutritional advice that doesn’t discuss the importance of proper hydration. But it’s particularly important for seniors, who are even more likely than younger adults to suffer from dehydration. (And those with dementia are even more vulnerable to dehydration).
Lack of hydration is compounded by the fact that seniors lose lean muscle mass as they age – which results in a lessened capacity for storing water. Drinking water also reduces stress on the kidneys and helps prevent constipation.
It’s important to make sure your elderly loved one is drinking water whether he or she feels thirsty or not. Changes in the brain and body chemistry with age reduce the body’s regulating mechanisms so he or she may not feel thirsty even if they’re dehydrated.