Eating Healthier – Best Time to Start is Now for Seniors & Caregivers

We’re told every day by the media that we need to buy and use certain foods and products to help prevent heart disease.

The messages are everywhere we turn.

A new superfood, a new supplement, an exercise bike, or “there’s an app for that”!

It can be confusing.

Perhaps your senior’s doctor has told them that they need to eat something different to help improve their heart function and prevent heart attack and strokes.

About half of all American adults have one or more preventable, diet-related chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and overweight and obesity.

We’ll cut through the confusion and misinformation to help family caregivers guide their senior loved ones to better health through diet.

Science Based Guidelines

The National Dietary Guidelines are produced every five years to focus research into guidelines for health prevention and reduce the risk of development of chronic diseases for Americans. Their recommendations are based on the latest scientific research.

The report is reviewed by the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS). In fact, the Dietary Guidelines report is required under the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act, which states that HHS and the USDA must jointly publish a report every five years containing nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public.

The latest report, for 2015-2020, highlights how Americans — especially seniors who wish to age well — are not eating enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in our overall diets and instead are overindulging on sodium, sugars, and solid fats.

It addresses the epidemic of obesity and the need for all Americans to get physically active.

Healthy Eating Habits

The 2015-2020 guidelines also offer guidance on how to change our eating habits to include more good fats and avoid harmful fats to reduce the risk of developing heart disease.

Seniors continue to be encouraged to focus on saturated fats and cholesterol. Unfortunately, though, over the last twenty years few positive changes have been seen in the way we all eat.

Too few of us have taken the recommendations to the table and changed our lifestyles.

As we age, it becomes even more important to make lifestyle changes to be as healthy as possible.

Dealing with chronic and often debilitating diseases could help make aging in place more successful or more difficult if changes are ignored.

Dietary Guidelines Recommendations

Because as many as half of Americans have at least one chronic disease that would be benefited by dietary changes, learning from the Dietary Guidelines and making some changes would help our senior loved ones and us be healthier.

Key recommendations to come from the 2015-2020 report include:

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats; reduce sodium intake. Adopt an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
  4. Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
  5. Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.

Some of the health messages that still remain true are:

  • reduce saturated fat intake to less than 7% of our total calories for the day
  • incorporate more unsaturated fat sources from plant foods
  • eliminate trans fat
  • limit cholesterol intake to 300 mg/day for prevention of heart disease and 200 mg/day for those with known risk of diabetes

The biggest change coming from this report is that we shouldn’t focus on one food as good or bad, but instead, look to your overall food intake pattern.

We need to take every opportunity to make the best food choice possible every time we eat a meal or drink a beverage.

We Can Do It!

Caregivers should help seniors (and themselves) take a good hard look at what they are eating.

Is every bite counting or are we just grabbing what is easy with little regard to nutrition?

When you start thinking about the everyday food choices, it gets a little easier to find foods that fit into a healthy eating pattern.

  • Think about not just what you eat but also what you drink to make healthy choices
  • Include more plant based foods, such as fruits and vegetables
  • Use lean meats and remove skin from poultry
  • Eat fish twice a week
  • Use a soft spread from a tub instead of in a stick or solid form
  • Limit frying foods and bake, broil or grill instead
  • Select low fat dairy products: milk, yogurt, cheese, etc.
  • Limit the amount of egg yolks and cream based sauces we eat
  • Read food labels to see where the fat and sodium is hiding
  • Eat well across your lifespan — it’s never too late to start eating better!

We all love our favorite foods, but sometimes a simple change in what we choose to eat can mean a big change in our health. You might want to check out some Recipe Renovations® from Nutrition for the Health of It.

Other Report Recommendations

Naturally eating right is a big component to good health but we also know that regular physical activity is a huge piece of the health puzzle too.

They recommend seniors (and all of us) get the recommended amount of physical activity per week by finding an activity your senior enjoys!

This report addresses the fact that diet and exercise in combination are essential to wellness and successful aging.

This is not just for our senior loved ones, though, as it’s important to maintain a healthy diet no matter your age.

Not only will that help our seniors maintain good health but also manage and prevent chronic diseases.