BY SALLIE W. BOYLES / AJT //
Here are a few words that might sound familiar:
“I made your favorite dish!”
“Put some meat on your bones!”
“Eat your vegetables!”
Undoubtedly, the world would perish from malnutrition without mothers and grandmothers to entice everyone – l loved ones and strangers, babies and grownups – to sit down and eat!
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Adult children and grandchildren, therefore, are often unprepared when they realize that the women who so painstakingly provided such delicious, healthy meals their entire lives are not properly feeding their own bodies. Many seniors, in fact, are either subsisting on junk food or barely eating anything.
Unfortunately, poor eating habits, which unnecessarily cause and complicate a host of related health issues, are common among the elderly.
Seniors’ health issues associated with inferior diets can be serious, ranging from memory and depression problems to dehydration and diabetes. The reasons they fail to maintain nutritional health vary.
Many elderly people can’t taste foods the way they once did, so they lose their appetites or gravitate to sugary, salty foods with more flavor. In other situations, complicated grocery shopping lists and meal preparation become too much to handle, so seniors on their own rely on simple-to-make, familiar options that they assume are healthy.
“When our CareMinders’ specialists initially visit homes of prospective care recipients to assess their individual needs, it is not unusual for us to find their kitchen cabinets full of Campbell’s soups – often one of every variety from the grocery store shelf,” says Lisa Reisman, owner of CareMinders Home Care of Sandy Springs and Dunwoody. “While canned soups aren’t the worst possible choice on occasion, they are typically loaded with salt and other additives, yet lack valuable nutrients. A young and healthy college kid might subsist on ramen noodles for a period of time without major complications, but an older person is more likely to suffer physically and mentally without the proper nutrition.”
Regular meals are important at any age.
“Yet eating well is all the more imperative as we age to make sure we are getting the nutrients we need,” said Cheryl Orlansky, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator with Laureate Medical Group. “Seniors, especially, should consume enough protein from beans, nuts or seeds, or lean animal protein like fish, chicken or beef.”
Orlansky adds that Fiber from whole grains is another critical component for seniors, as is calcium from leafy green or low-fat dairy products.
Fiber rich and water rich fruits and vegetables are also vital.
“Choose colorful fruits and vegetables,” Orlansky advises. “They deliver the most fiber, energy and antioxidants in addition to vitamins that can help boost the immune system.”
Making a healthy meal does not have to entail a major undertaking. Orlansky suggests frozen microwaveable vegetables – without any butter or cheesy sauces – in manageable portions that can steam right in the bag.
“Soups, which include water and can be a good source of fiber, protein and vegetables, are great if you go for a lower-sodium, frozen option like Tabatchnik,” she says.
Seniors who live independently are not the only ones at risk. Many who reside with loved ones or in assisted living consume unhealthy foods on a regular basis, either by choice or as a result of what others serve them.
“Nutrition for the elderly is a balancing act,” says Paula Freedman, who regularly weighed the pros and cons of what her mother ate. “My 93-year-old mother use to say to me, ‘I love hot dogs,’ and, ‘Let me eat what I like.’ She had a medical history of congestive heart failure and high blood pressure, so highly salty foods like hot dogs were not dietary ‘approved’. The balancing act of what seniors should have to eat, what they want to eat, and what a senior or senior residence can afford to budget are all part of the equation.”
Additionally, concerned loved ones tend to question the merit of withholding favorite foods when enjoying a decadent éclair or basket of fries is a highlight when many other pleasures no longer exist in a person’s life. Nevertheless, moderation is wise.
“Just as our mothers and grandmothers served our favorite treats now and then,” adds Reisman, “we also need to help our elderly loved ones by managing how much sugar, salt, and alcohol they consume.”
Often, she explains, their intense cravings for sweets or fried foods wreak havoc on the older person’s body. “Maybe one slice of chocolate cake on Friday night is enough to satisfy the yearning without creating a health problem,” she said.
Adult children and grandchildren also need to become educated.
“Take time to discuss nutrition with your loved one and his or her primary care physician,” Reisman concludes. “If you have additional questions, meet with a nutritionist. From there, make sure that you or your loved one’s caregivers have complete dietary instructions, along with ideal meal options and recipes.”
For more information about CareMinders Home Care, call (770) 551-9533 or visit www.caremindersdunwoody.com.