Second of two parts
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”— Hippocrates
Is there a way to age more gracefully?
Natural aging often brings more challenges to healthy eating. For example, as people age, their ability to chew and swallow a wide range of foods may be compromised due to oral and gastrointestinal problems. This results in more difficulty with maintaining adequate nutrition.
Because food and nutrition provide some fundamental keys to health and wellness, appropriate nutrient intake can influence the aging process. It can become a vicious cycle. Living with multiple conditions and/or chronic diseases can affect food variety and quality.
This will ultimately affect health, quality and length of life.
It is possible to maintain health with eating well in a way that suits particular requirements, symptoms of conditions and possible side effects of specific therapies.
Dentition and swallowing
If tooth loss, dental pain, issues with chewing and swallowing problems are affecting what foods are chosen for meals, this can alter the nutritional landscape for maintaining health.
Lack of good dentition may lead to decreased appetite and weight changes.
The texture of foods can be changed to improve dietary tolerance.
Softer, moister food items can generally offer suitable alternatives when chomping down on a raw carrot or T-bone steak is not possible.
Cooking foods in liquids such as broth, water or juice until they are soft and tender can improve texture that is easier to swallow.
Limit foods that require a great deal of effort to chew, such as tough meats or poultry, deep fried foods with batter or breading, certain raw fruits and vegetables, bagels and English muffins. Frozen vegetables and fruits can be easily mashed, added to meals and are more tender for chewing and swallowing.
Stomach and bowels
Having acid reflux or heartburn and taking medications to help can impede the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients over time. Therefore, it’s important to be aware that long-term therapy for stomach problems may impact nutritional status.
Plus, many seniors do not get enough vitamin B12 through their diet. Including fortified cereal, lean meat, fish and seafood will help. A supplement may be required in some cases. Talk to your health care professional for guidance.
Bowel health can influence appetite and intake. A fibre-rich diet is generally healthful for the majority of people. Fibre has many beneficial effects on the body by lowering risk for heart disease, preventing Type 2 diabetes, and helping to manage weight.
Whole-grain foods, vegetables, fruits, beans and peas all offer good sources of fibre to help keep bowels regular.
Adequate fluid intake is also key. Choose liquids that are non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic to help with hydration and bowel regularity.
For some people, loose, frequent bowel movements are a result of bowel conditions. In that case, fibre and other food factors may need adjustments to improve nutrient absorption. Before buying a natural health aide, seek out professional advice for the specific bowel problem.
Bone health is a key factor to help the skeleton stay strong over the long-term. Older adults have higher requirements for calcium and vitamin D to maintain bone health. Three servings of vitamin-D fortified foods, including low fat milk (or fortified non-dairy beverage) and yogurt, plus other calcium-rich foods, including dark green leafy vegetables, canned fish (with bones) and fortified cereals will help keep bones stronger longer.
If you take a calcium supplement or multivitamin, choose one that contains vitamin D.
For overall health, people of all ages need protein for strong, healthy bodies. Some older adults do not get the protein they need to maintain muscle mass, fight infection and recover from an accident or surgery.
Some ideas to easily improve protein intake include, adding canned beans/legumes to salads, soups, rice dishes and casseroles. Enhance meals with cheese for extra protein and calcium. Keep tinned fish in cupboards for quick additions to casseroles, salads and sandwiches. Peanut and other nut butters are an easy way to boost nutrition for snacks.
Use milk instead of water when making soup, smoothies and oatmeal. Add dry milk powder for an inexpensive protein supplements to fluid milk, cream soups and mashed potatoes.
In addition, access to nutritious foods and means to prepare meals can also impact daily food choices.
Seniors on limited incomes may have trouble buying enough nutrient-rich foods to meet all their nutritional needs. If this is a problem for you or someone you love, explore the options for senior meal services or other food programs in the community.
Extreme dieting or drastic weight loss is not recommended later in life. Many diets that promote restricting entire food groups can easily lead to serious nutrient gaps and the slippery slope to malnutrition. Rapid weight loss often leads to lean muscle decline, acceleration of bone loss, and may aggravate a chronic disease and condition, such as cancer development, bowel problems and/or mental health changes.
Aim for a stable weight (within 10 pounds of your regular weight) as you get older. If you want to lose a few pounds, talk to your health provider or a registered dietitian about the best plan for you. The right balance of foods and activities could help you lose a little fat, while maintaining strong muscles and bones.
There are multiple ways to continue to maintain health by eating well, despite the variety of dietary barriers and chronic conditions. In addition, keeping active daily will enhance the appetite for healthy wholesome food.
The first part of this article originally ran in the April 7 Alberni Valley News-Advertiser.
Sandra Gentleman, RD, is a local Registered Dietitian and steward of Canal Beach.