Making healthy food choices is a sensible thing to do at all ages. As our body undergoes changes with age, its nutritional requirement changes accordingly. Food being our main source of nutrients, we have to make appropriate dietary changes to ensure that our body is getting all the nutrients in the required amounts to avoid malnutrition-related consequences.
34% of older Canadians are found to be at risk of malnutrition. Women have a higher risk of malnutrition compared to men. Among women, those aged 75 years and older, and those living alone, have higher risk than their younger counterparts, and those who live with others. Older adults having depression – diagnosed or undiagnosed – have 62% risk of being malnourished.
Malnutrition in older adults can be due to causes related to normal aging, mental and physical health conditions and medications for the same, and socio-economic factors including the living environment.
Here are 10 healthy eating tips specific for older adults from the National Institute of Aging and Dietitians of Canada.
Drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, and stay hydrated. With age, our sense of thirst can diminish. Drinking water, low fat or fat-free milk, and 100% juice keeps you hydrated. Coffee, tea, and juice with added sugars and salt can be dehydrating.
Try to eat with a friend or a family member more often, to make meals more enjoyable. If you crave a change, visit a nearby senior centre or place of worship to enjoy your lunch at subsidized rate with others. If you live alone, spruce up your dining area with a table cloth, flowers and enjoy your favourite music as you eat.
Plan healthy meals-Get information on what to eat, how much to eat, and which foods to choose from Canada food guide, or Dietitians Canada website, or get a referral to consult a dietitian through your primary care network. Plan for three meals and a couple of healthy snacks each day.
Choose your plate and know your portions- Choose foods from all 4 groups- whole grains, protein, fruits and vegetables, and oils and fats. 1/2 of your plate should be covered by fruits and vegetables, 1/4 by brown rice, bread or whole-grain pasta, and the remaining 1/4 by protein-rich foods such as diary, lean meat, egg, fish, tofu, or beans.
Include a variety of different colored vegetables to get health-promoting nutrients. Enjoy one dark green and one orange coloured vegetable everyday. If you have difficulty purchasing fresh vegetables and fruits, get frozen ones instead. If you crave sweets, choose a fruit over a cookie/cake/ice-cream.
If you are unable to chew vegetables, fruits, and meat, try cooked or canned foods such as unsweetened fruit, low-sodium soups and tuna.
Flavour food with herbs and spices. With age, our ability to taste natural food flavours decreases and even favourite foods might start tasting different. Add spices and herbs, and lemon juice to your food to increase their flavor.
Keep food safe and fresh to prevent food-related illnesses. Avoid unpasteurized dairy, raw, and undercooked eggs, fish, meat and poultry. Do not keep leftover food in the fridge for more than 2 days. Thaw frozen food in the fridge rather than on countertop.
Read the nutrition label on foods to ensure that you are making the right choices when buying grocery. Pay attention to the calories, sodium, trans- fats and sugars. Most canned and processed foods contain excess sodium and hidden sugar.
Include a small amount (30-45 mL or 2-3 tbsp) of unsaturated fats, such as canola oil, olive oil, salad dressing, non-hydrogenated margarine and mayonnaise. Limit butter, hard margarine, lard and shortening, which are higher in saturated fat and/or trans-fats.
Choose nutrient dense foods over calorie-dense foods. These provide many nutrients without adding calories. For example, a slice of 100% whole-wheat bread contains 138 calories, where as a medium croissant contains 231 calories.
Banana, chicken, peanuts and eggs are nutrient-dense, while cookies, candy, ice-cream etc. are calorie-dense.
The Canada food guide and Dietitians Canada website ( https://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Seniors.aspx ) are excellent sources for more information on how to make smart food choices. If you would like to know how well you are currently doing with daily food choices, use the eating habits questionnaire on Nutri-eSCREEN http://www.nutritionscreen.ca/?promo=escreen. As the old saying goes, you are what you eat.
Padmaja Genesh, who holds a bachelor degree in medicine and surgery as well as a bachelor degree in Gerontology, has spent several years teaching and working with health care agencies. A past resident of Red Deer, and a past board member of Red Deer Golden Circle, she is now a Learning Specialist at the Alzheimer Society of Calgary. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org