How Healthy Eating Helps Seniors Age – and Live – Well
“It’s no secret that good nutrition is beneficial to all of us but especially for seniors,” says Allison Yancey, Executive Director of Residences at Wellpoint, an Independent Living, Assisted Living and Memory Care community in Huntsville, Alabama. “Older adults need different levels of nutrients in order to maintain strong bones and muscles, keep a healthy weight, reduce the risk of diseases like diabetes and hypertension, boost immune systems and stay energized. Healthy eating, along with getting enough exercise and practicing good sleep habits, is one of the key ways seniors can ensure healthy aging.”
Approximately 25 percent of seniors have poor nutrition, which can lead to weakened bones, a lowered immune system, weaker muscles, being underweight or overweight, cognitive decline and a slew of other health issues. One reason why seniors have poor nutrition is because older bodies don’t absorb nutrients as well as younger bodies. Another reason is that, as we get older, our bodies need fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight. This means that every item that goes onto seniors’ plates need to work as hard as possible.
“At Residences at Wellpoint, we believe that being well starts with what you put into your body, so each meal is crafted to be optimally delicious and nutritious,” says Allison. “Our executive chef and highly trained dining team will partner with our residents in nutrition planning as well as coming up with new, exciting ideas for our daily menus. Our chef will even conduct free culinary classes and demonstrations! From exquisite fine dining to the casual ease of the bistro experience to a convenient grab-and-go café to our juice bar, dining at Residences is a daily healthy adventure.”
In honor of March being National Nutrition Month, we wanted to highlight the benefits of healthy eating for aging and living well, while also providing simple tips for integrating healthy habits into your daily life.
How to Eat a Healthy Diet as a Senior
We all generally know what constitutes a “good” diet and what makes up an “unhealthy” diet. However, you may not know all the subtleties that differentiate a good “senior” diet from a good “regular” diet. There are similarities, certainly, but seniors have to be even more mindful with what they’re putting in their bodies. Here are a few general ways that your diet may need to shift as you age.
You need fewer calories, but they need to be nutrient-dense. Seniors generally don’t require as much to eat as younger people because metabolisms naturally slow down as we get older. Conversely, a senior’s nutrient needs are often higher than those of younger people. Put those two facts together, and it’s essential for seniors to choose items that are as high in nutrients as possible with as few empty calories as possible.
Protein is essential. Older adults naturally lose muscle tone and mass as they age. Good muscle tone is what helps keep our balance and maintain a lot of our physical abilities. Besides regular strength and resistance training, the best way to maintain muscle is to eat a diet rich in proteins.
You need to increase your fiber intake. The old joke about eating prunes as we get older is steeped in fact. Fiber is an essential nutrient that helps absorption of nutrients, making it one reason seniors need more of it when we get older. At the same time, bowel-related issues like constipation also increase as we get older. And you guessed it – fiber intake is directly related to keeping your pipes flowing smoothly.
Vitamins, vitamins and more vitamins. There are seemingly countless vitamins that seniors need to be taking in order to help their aging bodies. Some of them are vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, iron, calcium, vitamin B12, magnesium and others. While a good multivitamin will help increase your intake, doctors recommend getting as many vitamins as possible through natural methods – like the foods we eat.
You should drink more water. Most of us don’t drink enough water, anyway, and we don’t realize we’re dehydrated until we become thirsty. A senior’s ability to recognize thirst decreases with age, so it’s very easy for older adults to become dehydrated without even realizing it. Seniors need to make sure they’re drinking fluids regularly, even if they don’t particularly feel thirsty.
Eat regular meals, even if you aren’t hungry. Yes, you read that right. Even if you’re not hungry, it’s important to get all your nutrients so that you can remain as healthy as possible. Seniors often experience reduced appetite for a variety of reasons: taste loss, a side effect from medication, reduced appetite and more. If you’re not feeling hungry for a long stretch of time, talk to your doctor to see if there’s something that can be done.
Tips for Eating Well to Age Well
Even if you aren’t eating a healthy diet right now, you can start making positive changes immediately that can add up to some big, beneficial differences. Here are a few things you can begin integrating into your routine in order to help you age well and be well:
- Eat more whole, nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods.
Shop the outside aisles of the grocery store to fill your shopping card with fresh, whole and nutrient-rich foods. When in doubt, eat more vegetables and fruits, choose leaner meats like chicken and fish and go for healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts, etc.). Save fatty meats, sweets, alcohol and junk food for special occasions.
- Make sure you’re getting enough fiber.
Besides keeping us regular, fiber helps you stay full, keeps blood sugar in check and maintains your cholesterol. It’s best to get your fiber from natural sources, like whole grains, beans and vegetables, but you may want to talk to your doctor about adding fiber supplements to your diet.
- Drink more water.
Staying hydrated keeps your joints supple, your skin clear and your brain sharper (really). It’s a good idea to carry a bottle of water with you (even throughout the house) and sip on it while you’re doing your daily chores. If you don’t like plain water, flavored sparkling water, broths and decaffeinated teas are all good choices, too.
- Strengthen your bones with calcium.
Avoid fractures and strengthen your bones by getting adequate calcium in your diet. Choose foods like cheese, milk, broccoli, tofu, almonds and kale to bone up on your bone health.
- Eat more fat.
Yes, it’s true – fat is finally good for you. Good fats, that is. Healthy fats, like what you find in fish and olive oil, help you stay full between meals, improves the function of your brain and overall keeps your body in good working order.
Where It All Comes Together
At Residences at Wellpoint, we provide an exceptional experience for those who desire Independent Living, Assisted Living or Memory Care in the Huntsville area. As part of the broader Wellpoint Community “campus,” we cultivate an engaged, intergenerational community unlike any other. Here, we celebrate well-being with an array of social programs; innovative, on-site medical technology; a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle and so much more.
Here, our residents enjoy complete freedom of choice as well as the ability to plan their days however they choose. This is because we take the tedious routines of everyday life off your hands so that you can enjoy your life any way you wish. Go on an outing, enjoy the community, get fit in the fitness center, enjoy our dining bistro or shoot a game of pool in the sports/billiards bar. It’s all waiting for you.
No matter what your needs are, we can meet them. Our lifestyle philosophy supports every need along your journey, whether you desire Independent Living, need the assistance of our Assisted Living program or begin to need Memory Care. However your needs may change, we offer on-site medical assistance and supportive services so you can continue enjoying the engaging lifestyle you love. to learn more!
Call us at 256.274.5312 for more information or to today.