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Healthy Seniors: The Case for Eating Well

March is National Nutrition Month which makes this a perfect time to think about how we or our elderly loved ones eat. It’s widely recognized that older individuals tend to eat less as they age. One of the reasons is less physical activity but another reason is that our taste buds change with age and things just don’t taste as good as they used to. There can be many other reasons, some serious, but with these changes it becomes even more important to ensure our elderly loved ones get well-prepared and nutritious meals. This year’s National Nutrition Month theme is, “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” The idea is to remind everyone that every bite counts. When you consider that the average individual eats about 80,000 meals over a typical lifetime, small shifts in food choices toward eating unhealthy snacks in lieu of a regular meal or skipping meals altogether can add up to a significant loss of critical nutrition over a lifetime.

Making informed food choices becomes even more important as we see health care costs rising due to complications associated with the current epidemic of obesity and high blood pressure, an increase in various cancers and the recent, surprising finding of a shortened life expectancy across the nation. For seniors, it’s even more critical that every bite they take counts and that it’s full of healthy nutritional building blocks needed to support their aging bodies. And just like every other age group, seniors need to develop (or have developed for them) sound eating habits and an activity regimen that will help keep them healthy for as long as possible.

The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics has published some important messages to help you or your loved one, "Put Your Best Fork Forward:"

  1. Adopt a daily habit of eating a variety of your favorite, healthy foods. These can include green leafy salads and other fresh veggies of every type (frozen, if fresh is unavailable), and fresh fruits of every kind. (Try to avoid canned fruits and veggies, where possible. They usually have added salt and/or sugar and lose important vitamins and healthful antioxidants in the heating process.)

  2. Make it a habit to cook more at home and experiment with new ingredients, such as using safflower oil in place of canola oil (it contains an acid that may be harmful), or better yet, olive oil whenever possible. Try stir frying veggies with a little olive oil and garlic, especially if always steaming your vegetables has become unappetizing. Cook with seasonings that do not include MSG (monosodium glutamate) which may be harmful to some and try varying your fruits and veggies as the seasons change. A good rule of thumb--"fresh” is always preferable to frozen or canned.

  3. Finally, eat and drink the right amount for you, as MyPlate encourages individuals to do. You can find the right serving sizes at: Following the guidelines found on this website can help lead to better health!

Finally, the Academy recommends trying a new fruit or vegetable each week during National Nutrition Month and making time to eat more meals together with your family, and in the case of your senior loved one, making a point of eating more meals together at their place or yours.

If you or your loved one needs assistance with meal planning, grocery shopping or meal preparation, AAging Better has carefully trained caregivers that can assist with these chores, either a couple of hours per day or up to 24-hour around-the-clock care. Contact us for a free in-home consultation with one of our intake nurses to find out how we can help you or your loved one achieve healthier diets.

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