Smart food choices help seniors stay healthy
RAYMOND, Miss. -- Healthy eating is important at every age, but older adults should pay special attention to their diets.
As adults age, several physical changes can affect how the body digests food and absorbs nutrients, said Pamela Redwine, Mississippi State University Extension agent in Yalobusha County.
“Senior adults need to make sure they eat enough fiber and drink enough water,” she said. “With age, the sense of thirst often diminishes, so seniors shouldn’t rely on thirst as their primary reminder to drink fluids.”
Depending on gender, older adults should drink nine to 12 half cups of water daily. To easily meet that goal, fill a container with at least nine cups of water and drink it throughout the day, Redwine said.
As with thirst, older adults sometimes also experience declining appetites that lead to weight loss, Extension health specialist David Buys said.
“Too much weight loss can be a signal that something else is going on in the body that should be checked by a health care provider,” he said. “Seniors, their families and caregivers should watch for any excessive weight loss.”
Many times, seniors want to keep cooking simple and convenient.
“When people are preparing meals for one or two, they may default to easier foods that are less healthy,” Buys said. “Instead, they want to have healthier foods, so it is important for older adults to plan their meals in advance.
“It’s never too late to make healthy changes to your diet, such as eating more whole foods and fruits and vegetables instead of processed and refined foods.”
Meal planning can help older adults ensure they get all of the nutrients they need. With age comes slower metabolism, and people require fewer calories. But nutrient needs remain about the same, Redwine said.
“This means seniors need to make smart choices with plenty of variety from the five food groups,” she said. “If the budget doesn’t allow for a lot of fresh produce, buy seasonal fruits and vegetables or stock up on canned, dried and frozen when they are on sale.”
Redwine advises people to buy reduced-sodium canned vegetables, reduced-sugar dried fruits and canned fruits in their own juices with no added sugar.
Meat, poultry and fish may not always fit in the budget, but getting creative in the kitchen can make these protein sources last longer.
“Try combining lean meat, poultry and fish with other ingredients in a casserole dish so that a small amount goes further,” Redwine said. “Eggs, legumes and peanut butter also are good sources of protein. If chewing these foods is an issue, try steaming or baking firmer vegetables and fruits and chopping meats into small pieces.”
Older adults should be vigilant about food safety. Lower immune systems, medical conditions and some medications can affect how well the body fights off infection, which puts seniors at higher risk for contracting food-borne illness, Redwine said.
To avoid illness, follow basic food safety guidelines when handling, preparing and consuming foods. Wash hands and surfaces often. Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from cooked and ready-to-eat foods in your grocery cart, grocery bags and refrigerator. Cook meats to safe temperatures and confirm with a thermometer. Refrigerate meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, other perishables and leftovers within two hours of purchasing or cooking. Never thaw food on the counter.
Certain chronic health conditions and medications can affect a person’s diet. Buys recommends that all seniors communicate with their health care providers about their diets, but especially if there are special circumstances.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for a consult with a registered dietician if you have concerns about what to eat, and if you see a noticeable change in your taste or appetite after starting a new medicine, talk to your pharmacist,” Buys said.