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Top nutrition tips for seniors

Posted by Dr. Shirley Newell
Category: Healthy Aging

Senior couple eating breakfast by the window.

We’ve just passed National Nutrition Month, a time dedicated to focusing attention on the importance of a healthy lifestyle. This includes not only eating right, but also learning to make informed choices about diet and developing good physical activity habits.  But the importance of healthy living continues each of the 365 days of the year to help stay healthy and energized.

Especially for seniors, the foods you put into your body have an immense effect on the quality and longevity of life. As the National Institutes of Health reports, those who maintain a balanced diet in their golden years have a reduced risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis and even some types of cancer. Recent studies have even suggested that the right eating habits can help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Suggestions for healthy eating as a senior

No two diets are alike, and each person must cater his or her eating habits to meet the needs of his or her unique body. Finding the right balance of vitamins, nutrients, protein, fats and carbohydrates is something each person should do with the help of a health care professional. However, there are some general guidelines for seniors, especially those trying to prevent or halt the cognitive decline that comes with dementia. Dr. Shirley Newell, Chief Medical Officer at Aegis Living, suggests looking at the Mediterranean Diet because she says, “What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.” But also talk with your clinician about implementing some of these suggestions into your lifestyle:

“Healthy eating reduces the risk of cardiovascular conditions among seniors.”

Stick to plant-based foods

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine recommends that older adults follow low-fat, plant-based diets and avoid fatty foods derived from animals. Meat and dairy can be replaced with vegetables, beans, peas and whole grains. Such diets have the capacity to reduce one’s risk for certain health defects common among seniors, which is why the American Dietetic Association also supports vegetarianism and veganism. [If need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view pdf, click here to download]

“Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases,” the ADA noted in a 2009 report.

Eat minimal saturated and trans fats

Saturated and trans fats have been long known to increase one’s risk of cardiovascular conditions and clog the arteries. By stifling blood flow, such fats have the capacity to reduce oxygen delivery to the brain, which can exacerbate cognitive decline associated with dementia. Eating a plant-based diet will reduce your saturated fat intake, as animal products are the main source. However, trans fats can be found in snacks and fried foods (avoid products with partially hydrogenated oils, which are trans fats).

Hydration is an important part of a healthy diet.
Hydration is an important part of a healthy diet.

Stay hydrated

Drinking enough water is important no matter what age you are, but it’s especially vital for seniors. A lack of liquids can worsen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, causing people with dementia to feel more disoriented and irritable. Dehydration can also cause the brain to shrink (after all, it’s made up of three-fourths water). On the other hand, proper hydration fosters healthy cognitive function, boosting the capacity for memory, concentration and even mood balance.

Aegis Living understands the huge importance of eating well as a senior, which is why this leader in assisted living strives to encourage healthy eating among residents. Seniors enjoy three specially prepared meals per day, crafted by chefs who work with dietary professionals to ensure residents are receiving food that promotes cognitive health without sacrificing flavor. Specialized diets can even be developed for people with special needs, such as residents with diabetes. Additionally, Aegis Living ensures that all residents stay well hydrated by placing hydration stations throughout the community.