Good nutrition is important throughout your lifetime to maintain a healthy body and mind. As people age, they become less active, experience a reduced sense of taste and smell, may have tooth problems or dentures, and often lose their appetite. These issues lead to nutritional imbalances. WebMD reports that one-third of older Americans don’t get the vitamins and minerals they need. If you care for an elderly person, here are six simple things you can do to help him or her eat a healthy diet.
1. Variety Is Key
Certain nutrients become more important as a person ages, such as potassium to regulate blood pressure and combat depression, vitamin B12 to aid in brain function and energy, calcium and vitamin D for strong bones, fiber for digestion, and healthy fats to decrease the risk of heart disease. This may sound confusing, but good nutrition isn’t all that complicated. It’s really just a matter of making sure that the senior in your life eats a variety of different foods.
Mentally divide a plate into sections, and then fill half of it with fruit and vegetables, one-quarter with lean protein and one-quarter with healthy grains. Shop seasonal fruits and vegetables for freshness and variety. Vary the protein options by offering fish, tofu, beans or chicken, and explore different grains such as quinoa, barley and brown rice to keep things interesting.
2. Keep Them Hydrated
Seniors often don’t feel thirsty until they’re already dehydrated, and dehydration can cause confusion and memory loss. Encourage the elderly person in your life to drink the equivalent of eight 8-ounce cups of water each day by offering smaller cups throughout the day. Serving foods high in water content, such as fruit and soup, also helps with hydration.
3. Make It Easy for Them
If the person you’re caring for has trouble chewing or swallowing, serve soft foods with high moisture content to make them go down easier. Stews, soups and smoothies are easy to eat and serve up a nutritional powerhouse. Make smoothies with yogurt, fruit and protein powder to turn them into meal substitutes. Try pureeing or mashing dry foods with broth or milk to make them easier to eat. If the person you’re caring for has trouble using utensils, serve finger foods.
4. Spice It Up
According to an article on A Place for Mom, senior meals don’t need to be bland. With their decreased sense of taste, seniors need more flavor to enjoy their food. Punch up your meals with basil, garlic, mint, ginger or vinegar, but avoid using salt to add flavor.
5. Encourage Snacking
Lower levels of activity might mean a decrease in appetite for some elderly people. If you think the senior in your life isn’t getting enough nutrients at mealtime, set out small bowls of nuts, fruit or carrot sticks to boost nutrition intake between meals.
6. Make Eating an Experience
Mealtime isn’t just about eating; it’s about comfort, socializing and pleasure. If you can’t eat together, sit and talk with the elderly person in your life during mealtime whenever possible.
A 2012 study in Sweden determined that seniors are drawn to the foods they grew up with, reports A Place for Mom. Make a healthy version of your senior’s favorite comfort food. Replace any unhealthy trans and saturated fats in the recipe with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that help protect against heart disease. Some sources of good fats include avocados, soy milk, olive and canola oils, and flaxseed.
Helping the senior citizen in your life eat a healthy diet is as easy as providing a good variety of nutrient-rich foods, serving the foods in easy-to-eat options with a little extra flavor, offering lots of water and making eating interesting again. By following a few simple steps, you can help the elderly person in your life thrive and make each mealtime a pleasurable experience.
To learn more about those at risk of hunger and nutrition issues and how you can help feed the hungry in the United States or around the world, visit The Hunger Site.Whizzco