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The Importance of Healthy Senior Nutrition

Posted by Ashleigh Pedersen, RDN
on September 10, 2020
Ladies dressed in feathered boas for tea time at Aegis of Lynnwood

Who doesn’t turn into a kid again around Halloween? Dreaming about a bag filled with sugary treats! To indulge in a favorite treat is fine now and then. The trick is to keep most of your diet healthy and balanced.

As we head into the holidays, it is a good time of year to re-exam the overall eating habits of your aging parent. Whether you are a primary caregiver who makes all of your mom’s meals, or concerned about the senior nutrition that your loved one is getting every day; here are a few things to keep in mind about your parent’s diet as they age.

Keep their diet well-balanced

Eating a balance of foods rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients is vital to keep your parent healthy as they age. Planning meals that are balanced will help them maintain a healthy weight, stay energized, and lower their risk of developing a chronic health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease. Malnutrition in the elderly can weaken their bones, muscles, and immune system leaving them vulnerable to disease.

Overall, focus on providing meals and snacks of nutrient-dense and high fiber foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, whole grains, oats, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. To avoid diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, your parent should reduce excess calories, eat less sodium, and avoid saturated and trans fats and processed sugars.

Key nutrients

Two essential nutrients to keep in mind for seniors are Omega 3 Fatty Acids and calcium. The Omega 3 Fatty Acids found in flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, canola oil, and some types of fish have proven to reduce inflammation. Inflammation can contribute to heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Consider planning a meal rich in this nutrient at least twice per week.

Second, calcium for bone health is necessary for your aging parents. The National Institutes of Health recommends that adults over the age of 50 get at least 1000 milligrams of calcium per day. Calcium can be found in leafy greens such as kale or in dairy and fortified orange juice. Consult with their physician to see if an Omega 3 or calcium supplements would be beneficial to your parent.

Fewer calories needed

Most seniors need to consume fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight. As they age and their activity level falls, they burn less calories throughout the day. They can also lose muscle mass that will cause their metabolism to slow down and lowering their daily caloric need. Often with a senior’s loss of taste and smell, your parent may also lose their appetite or food is less appealing. Some medications have the side effect of reducing hunger. But there is a balancing act that needs to be struck.

Although your parent may need fewer calories or food is less appealing to them, you want to ensure they are not malnourished. To avoid health problems, make sure the food they get is rich in nutrients to keep their organs, muscles, and bones healthy and strong, but not filled with empty calories that can lead to unhealthy weight gain. You need to consider both the number of calories they consume and the quality of those calories.

This Halloween, indulge in a few sweet treats but take some time to ensure that your parent’s overall diet is well-balanced with the nutrients they need for good health.

Visit your local Aegis Living community to find out about our Halloween and other holiday events.

Profile image of Ashleigh Pedersen, RDN

Ashleigh Pedersen, RDN

Enterprise Culinary Services Director

Ashleigh is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and completed her dietetics training program through Seattle Pacific University and University of Washington. Prior to joining Aegis Living she worked in foodservice manager and director positions in healthcare, and food service distribution at US Foods, Adventist Health and Legacy Health.

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