This is the third of a series of guest posts from our friends at NutritionForTheHealthOfIt.com. We think this is helpful information for both seniors and those who care for them. Those under a physician’s care, especially seniors, should consult a physician before making significant changes in their diet.
Together we are continuing to learn about the recommendations made by the USDA and HHS in the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans to help us all prevent chronic disease. As caregivers of seniors it is important to learn more about the benefits to our seniors’ health when we make lifestyle changes based on scientific evidence from the study of nutrition.
In this installment in our ongoing series we will explore chapter three of the new dietary guidelines. In this section, we will review foods and food components that should be reduced in our diet to improve our health.
Our seniors, and us as well, may be eating too much of certain types of foods or food components including sodium, solid fats such as saturated and trans fatty acids, sugars and refined grains that can increase the likelihood that we will develop or worsen chronic diseases. Some of us also eat too much cholesterol and drink excess alcohol.
One of the problems is that eating foods containing these specific items means that we are excluding more healthy, nutrient dense foods that will improve our health. We are giving up on the foods that are good for us when we eat too much of the foods that are not as good for us.
Chapter 3 of the guidelines helps us reduce certain food and food components including:
- Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg if you are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.
- Consume less than 10% of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
- Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol.
- Keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible, especially by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils, and by limiting other solid fats.
- Reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.
- Limit the intake of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium.
- If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Let’s delve into the recommendations to see what can help us help our seniors.
Sodium: The research shows the higher the intake of sodium in our daily diets, the higher our blood pressure. The primary way we get sodium in our diets is through salt (sodium chloride). We add it to our food at the table, in cooking, and mainly in food processing. Less than 15% of Americans now consume 2,300 mg/day. How can you reduce the sodium in your diet?
- Read food labels and select foods with the lowest amount of milligrams of sodium per serving
- Reduce the amount of processed foods you select and include more fresh items
- Serve primarily home cooked meals where you can control the amount of added sodium and use alternate seasonings for more flavor
- When eating out, request no salt added and choose lower sodium foods from the menu
Fats: Fats are found in many foods we eat. They provide important fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. Total fat intake for adults should be 20-35% of our total calories. The type of fat you eat is more important in preventing heart disease than the amount of total fat in your diet. Animal fats contain saturated fat and vegetable fats contain unsaturated fats while solid fats contain trans fats. Lowering the saturated fats to 7% of your total fat can result in a reduction in cardiovascular heart disease risk. Trans fats should be eliminated if possible. Cholesterol in the diet should be reduced especially since the body makes what it needs naturally. How do you reduce these fats in your diet?
- Substitute liquid fats for solid fats in cooking.
- Reduce the portion sizes of animal protein and therefore saturated fat.
- Use low fat dairy products.
- Trim fat from protein foods including visible fat and poultry skin.
- Limit use of hydrogenated fats to reduce trans fat to the lowest possible amount.
- Limit eating foods high in cholesterol such as eggs, beef and chicken.
Added Calories: Since most Americans have diets high in fat, the calories in our diets are also in excess of our nutritional needs and have led to obesity in many. Reducing the amount of fat in our diet will lower the calories we consume each day to help prevent disease and manage healthy weight. Added sugars in our foods also contribute to excessive calorie intake leading to obesity. Sugars are often added not only for sweetness but browning properties, texture, viscosity and preservation during processing. Added sugar makes up 16% of the calories in the American diet. Most of the added sugars provide few nutrients and are often thought of as empty calories. How do we reduce added sugars?
- Limit the amount of solid fats in the diet such as butter and stick margarine.
- Limit processed meats, luncheon meats, hot dogs, full fat cheese, sausage, ribs, and desserts.
- Limit foods with added sugars such as high fructose corn syrup, sodas, syrups, desserts, fruit drinks, energy drinks and candy. Limit table sugar.
Refined Grains: The processing of grain leads to the loss of vitamins and minerals which are often added back in the form of enrichment. Unfortunately, not all lost nutrients can be replaced during the refining process. To improve your intake of healthy grains:
- Refined grains should be replaced by whole grains.
- Half of all grains eaten should be whole grains.
Alcohol: Half of all Americans are considered regular drinkers. 29% of drinkers are categorized as binge drinkers. Moderate drinking has been shown to have beneficial effects on health including reduced heart disease risk and the maintenance of cognitive function in older adults. It is not recommended to begin drinking for health benefits if you do not presently drink. What should you do about alcohol intake?
- Do not consume excessive alcohol or binge drink. Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.
- Refrain from alcohol when taking medications that may interact adversely with alcohol.
Create a plan for you and your senior using the above tips. Reducing foods and food components that are detrimental to our health will help us reduce the risk of chronic disease and make our life more livable. Reading food labels will help you achieve your plan.
Tune in next week for the next part in our series that will focus on the foods we can increase in our diets. We encourage your feedback and questions!