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October 6, 2014

Cooking With Nutrition in Mind

No matter what your age, good nutrition is one of the best ways to stay healthy.  Daily food choices can make an important difference in your health and in how you look and feel. As a caregiver, managing the nutritional needs of your senior client or family member can be a challenge, but here are some practical diet tips that will help you to make planning and cooking nutritious meals a pleasurable experience for you both.

In general, changing to a more healthy diet is in every person's short and long term best interest. But for older adults, there are particular benefits of healthy eating. They include increased mental acuteness, resistance to illness and disease, higher energy levels, faster recuperation times and better management of chronic health problems. For seniors, eating well can also be the key to a positive outlook and staying emotionally balanced.

Cooking With Nutrition in Mind

As we age, good nutrition is essential. Our metabolic rates slow down and we tend to need fewer calories because we are not generally as physically active as we once were. So making sure that the senior you care for is eating nutrient-dense foods and making the most of the calories that they do eat becomes more necessary.

Eating a balanced mix of healthy foods may not only help prevent diseases but may also help to better manage health conditions that your senior may already have. Eating or avoiding particular foods is something to consider about the diet of a senior who has one or more chronic diseases such as heart, stroke, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, some kinds of cancer or anemia. Be sure to check with a doctor or registered dietitian about foods to include or avoid.

Seniors may lose interest in eating for a number of reasons. As we age our senses of taste and smell change. Medications can also affect senses, making seniors feel less hungry. They may experience problems chewing because of an issue with their teeth or gums, or perhaps their dentures may need an adjustment. They may also have digestive problems, such as gas or bloating, which can cause discomfort.

But healthy eating doesn't have to be about dieting and sacrifice. Eating well as an older adult can be about fresh, colorful food, creativity in the kitchen and eating with friends. MyPlate for Older Adults, developed by Tufts University researchers to replace the USDA food pyramid, continues to emphasize nutrient-dense food choices and the importance of fluid balance in the senior diet. Included among the dietary recommendations of MyPlate are:

  • Whole, enriched, and fortified grains and cereals such as brown rice and 100% whole wheat bread.
  • Bright-colored vegetables such as carrots and broccoli.
  • Deep-colored fruit such as berries and melon.
  • Low- and non-fat dairy products such as yogurt and low-lactose milk
  • Dry beans and nuts, fish, poultry, lean meat and eggs.
  • Liquid vegetable oils and soft spreads low in saturated and trans fat.
  • Fluid intake and foods with high water content such as lettuce, vegetable juice and soups.

Making small changes in the way you prepare food can often help overcome challenges to eating well, can help a senior enjoy meals more, and assure that he or she gets the nutrients and energy needed for healthy, active living. If your senior doesn't feel like eating because food no longer tastes good, you can enhance the flavor of food by cooking meals in new ways or by adding different herbs and spices. Look for ways to combine foods from the different food groups in creative ways. You can do this while continuing to eat familiar foods that reflect your cultural, ethnic or family traditions. Experiment with ethnic foods, regional dishes, or vegetarian recipes. Try out different kinds of fruits, vegetables and grains that add color to your meals. Try new recipes from friends, newspapers, magazines, television cooking shows, or cooking websites. Take a cooking class to learn new ways to prepare meals and snacks that are good for you. Grocery stores, culinary schools, community centers and adult education programs offer these types of classes.

It's also important to limit foods that can be harmful to your senior's health. Here are a few simple guidelines to follow:

  • Go easy on high-fat meat, high-fat dairy, and bakery treats. The high saturated fat content in these foods can clog arteries and contribute to heart problems.
  • Limit sugar. Eating too much sugar can send blood sugar levels on a series of rapid ups and downs. The excess calories can also cause insulin resistance and lead to type 2 diabetes,which damages blood vessels and often leads to heart disease.
  • Spare the salt. Eating too much salt can raise blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage many body parts including kidneys, eyes and the brain. A good rule of thumb is to limit sodium to about one teaspoon per day.

As always, before you make any dietary changes for your senior, be sure to consult a doctor or a health care provider.

'Eating Well As You Get Older', published by National Institute on Aging on NIH Senior Health, (
'MyPlate for Older Adults,' Published on Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy (
'Foods for Your Anti-Aging Diet', By Peter Janet, Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD, (

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