A Dietitian Explains ~ Reducing Foods for Better Health

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.

Key Recommendations

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?

  1. Read food labels and select foods with the lowest amount of milligrams of sodium per serving
  2. Reduce the amount of processed foods you select and include more fresh items
  3. Serve primarily home cooked meals where you can control the amount of added sodium and use alternate seasonings for more flavor
  4. 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?

  1. Substitute liquid fats for solid fats in cooking.
  2. Reduce the portion sizes of animal protein and therefore saturated fat.
  3. Use low fat dairy products.
  4. Trim fat from protein foods including visible fat and poultry skin.
  5. Limit use of hydrogenated fats to reduce trans fat to the lowest possible amount.
  6. 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?

  1. Limit the amount of solid fats in the diet such as butter and stick margarine.
  2. Limit processed meats, luncheon meats, hot dogs, full fat cheese, sausage, ribs, and desserts.
  3. 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:

  1. Refined grains should be replaced by whole grains.
  2. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

Lose Weight to Gain Health – A Dietitian on the Dietary Guidelines

This is the second 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 starting an exercise program or making significant changes in diet.

We all know how much lifestyle and diet influence our seniors’ health and how chronic diseases can be prevented or improved when changes are made.  It is not only important for us as caregivers but also for the seniors we care for everyday to make necessary changes to improve health and wellness.

Recently the USDA and HHS published updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  As part of the new guidelines, there are several key improvements that the research indicates can lead to big improvements in our health.

In our ongoing series we will explore each chapter of the new guidelines.  In this installment we review balancing calories to manage weight.  Due to the ever increasing prevalence of obesity among Americans, a strong emphasis in the new guidelines is being placed on helping manage our weight. There are key recommendations in the report to help us maintain a healthy weight all throughout the lifespan.  Managing calories consumed with the calories burned through physical activity will allow us to achieve a balance which in turn will help us manage our weight.

 Key Recommendations From the Guidelines to Help Us All Achieve a Balance

  • Prevent and/or reduce overweight/obesity with a combination of eating better and increased physical activity. To determine if you fall into the category of overweight or obesity, calculate your body mass index (BMI) at http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/
  • Control total calorie intake, this will mean consuming fewer calories from foods and beverages
  • Increase physical activity and reduce time spent in sedentary behaviors
  • Maintain appropriate calorie balance during each stage of life including older age

For our seniors, it has been shown that if you are already overweight, you are encouraged not to gain additional weight.  More importantly, if you are obese and have cardiovascular disease risk factors, intentional weight loss can be beneficial and result in improved quality of life and reduced risk of chronic diseases per the guidelines.

What Can You Do to Manage Both Your Health and Your Loved Ones

  • Limit portion sizes. Calories from fat, carbohydrates, proteins and alcohol come from all we eat and drink. The total number of calories balanced over time affects our weight not the source of the calories according to the research.
  • Limit fast food meals. Substitute unsaturated fat for saturated fat sources while you eliminate trans-fat.
  • Make a special effort to become physically active every day.  Weekly goal is 150 minutes of moderately intensive activity such as brisk walking, biking, dancing or swimming.  More overweight adults may benefit from up to 300 minutes of moderately intensive activity each week to achieve a weight loss.  For safety, older adults should participate in activity that also improves balance and only participate in activities that their abilities will allow.
  • Learn how many calories you need and make food choices that will help you eat no more than you need while incorporating the most nutritious choices each day.  Calorie needs often decrease as we age.  It is recommended that women over 51 years should try to eat 1,600 to 2,200 calories and men over 51 years should eat 2,000-2,800 calories (from sedentary to active).
  • Increase fiber in your diet with more whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables; reduce refined foods and sources of added sugars especially sugar sweetened beverages.
  • Limit alcohol that provides calories without nutrients-not to exceed one drink per day for women and two drinks per day from men.
  • Eat a good breakfast every day selecting nutrient dense foods and whole grains.  Skipping breakfast has been linked to weight gain.

The focus should be on achieving health.  Make a plan for you and your senior making changes each day.  Try new foods, new cooking techniques, new activities and find ways to move away from the table and the TV.  Enjoy each other!

Tune in next week for the next part in the series that will focus on the foods we can reduce to improve our health.  We encourage your feedback and questions!

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010-A Dietitian Explains it All

This is the first 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.

Every five years the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), with a panel of experts, review the latest nutrition research and compile guidelines to help the American people adopt healthy eating habits.  Decreasing the prevalence of diet related chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease is the goal of these recommendations. The most recent data indicates that 72 percent of men and 64 percent of women are overweight or obese, with about one-third of adults being obese per the USDA/HHS research.

The newly published guidelines based on this evidence are targeting a national epidemic in health—obesity.  It is very important that Americans begin making the necessary lifestyle changes that can positively impact their health and longevity.  We should consider these guidelines for ourselves, make more thoughtful food choices, use proper portion control and partake in physical activity to help improve our own health and work together with our loved ones to help them with their health.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines (released in January 2011) contains 23 key recommendations to guide all Americans as well as 6 additional key recommendations aimed at specific groups such as pregnant women.  We need to incorporate all of the key recommendations to impact our health instead of picking and choosing a few in order to be most successful.

Advice to Help You Make Lifestyle Changes

The USDA and HHS offer us all this advice based on their research:

  1. Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  2. Avoid oversized portions.
  3. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  4. Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
  5. Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers.
  6. Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

The full Dietary Guidelines are divided into specific chapters that outline the recommendations. The chapters include: balancing calories to manage weight, foods and food components to reduce, food and nutrients to increase, building healthy eating habits, and helping Americans make healthy food choices.  They also recommend that eating food is the best way to obtain the necessary nutrients.  The recommendations also offer tips on food preparation and handling that will reduce food borne illness.

We will review each chapter in detail in the coming weeks as part of this series.  We hope that you will follow all the details with us.  We invite you to submit your comments or questions.  We look forward to hearing from you.  In the meantime, begin incorporating the 6 tips above into your daily life and begin reaping the rewards of good health.

Seniors Connecting on Social Media-Tips to Stay Safe

The social media network phenomenon has overtaken America and chances are good it has included your senior.  Grandma is posting family photos, grandpa is looking up old war buddies and millions of our seniors are enjoying this new way to interact with everyone.

Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that social networking has almost doubled among seniors over 50 years — growing from 22 percent to 42 percent over the past year for a total of 27.4 million seniors logging on to networking sites.

As their skill and comfort using the internet increases, your seniors are talking with old friends, sharing photos, engaging with far away family members and even running businesses using social media.  Email continues to lead the way in internet usage among seniors.

However, there are potential pitfalls when seniors get connected and we as caregivers need to be on the lookout for these possible sources of trouble and educate our seniors about staying safe.

  1. Be aware of scams which can strike through social networking channels.
  2. Maintain privacy settings on sites.
  3. Remind seniors not give out too much private information in their profiles that criminals can use to gain your trust or other identity data.
  4. Don’t open emails or attachments from people you don’t know; malware attachments are still making the rounds which can steal your identity, add spyware, upload Trojan software, or send spam from your account.
  5. Never wire anyone money from an instant message or inbox message on social media; likelihood is someone has stolen info and are using a trusted name to scam you.
  6. Never give out financial info such as bank account numbers or social security numbers.
  7. When redirected to another login page, check your browser for facebook.com or twitter.com and leave site immediately if this is not correct before phishing can occur.
  8. Click at your own risk; if it seems suspicious don’t click it.
  9. Be judicious in giving out your cell phone number; you may get entered into a text messaging service or an app that bills you a monthly fee without realizing it.
  10. Don’t fall for something too good to be true like “tweeting for cash-earn money for tweets”.
  11. Don’t pay for free trials or give your credit card number for access to a trial or you could be charged monthly fees on your credit card for something you never intended to purchase.

There are new sites intended for seniors in addition to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  These are geared toward our seniors for connections and education and include Eons, Growing Bolder and Eldr.com.  While social media sites can offer our isolated seniors avenues for sharing and feeling part of something bigger, caution is the watch word and we need to help our seniors stay safe as they stay connected.  Wherever we are enjoying ourselves on the web and our guard may be down, you can be sure someone with ill intent is there as well.