With so much information available about diet and nutrition, it can be difficult to decipher fact from fiction. From incorporating superfoods to decoding fad diets, basic meal planning as we age can feel like a juggling act with your health and wellbeing up in the air. But what we know for certain is that eating a healthy diet is key to energetic aging.
Not only does a healthy diet boost the immune system and contribute to resistance against chronic disease, including heart disease and diabetes, but it also affects emotional health, and daily energy levels, and has been shown to improve mental function and even prevent the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Here are five common myths about healthy eating for seniors - and what you can do to ensure that you and your loved ones are taking everyday actions to age with health in mind.
1. Eating healthy means spending more money = FALSE
Goji berries may cost $11 a package, but did you know that the common raisin has an even higher capacity to absorb oxygen radicals, meaning that it has more antioxidants and is more effective at fighting free radicals in your body? And at a quarter of of the price, the choice is an easy one. Although many trendy superfoods come and go from supermarket shelves, sticking to basic fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains will keep you just as slim and your brain just as healthy as a trendy acai bowl - without slimming your wallet.
In addition to eating simple whole foods, eating healthy often means eating less meat, too - a high-price item that can quickly rack up your supermarket bill. Try incorporating a meatless Monday or a fish Friday as an easy way to curb your intake of red or processed meats, which have been shown increase the risk of cancer and heart disease. An added bonus of eating more fish also means getting more Omega-3 in your diet, which is great for keeping a the heart and brain healthy as we age.
Eating healthy also of means eating at home more often, which is an easy way to control your wallet, and what is going into your meals. Restaurants commonly use frozen ingredients and add extra sodium and fats to make their food more tasty at the expense of health. Save even more money by planning your meals around items that are on sale at your local grocery store, buying generic brands of basic foods, buying only as much food as you need, and freezing leftovers. Cooking at home is one way to please your appetite, your health, and your budget.
2. It’s too late to make effective and lasting dietary changes = FALSE
Even if you spent much of your younger life chowing down on cheeseburgers and French fries, it is never too late to make positive dietary changes and start down the path of restoring your body to better health. According to Harvard Health, eating less meat and more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, can lower your cholesterol by 25%. In addition, cutting back on saturated fat and trans fat found in red meat, poultry skin, whole dairy products and processed foods can reduce cholesterol by an additional 5-10%.
Lower cholesterol levels are vital for heart health and can even reduce the risk of stroke as we age. Healthy eating for seniors is also an effective tool for weight loss, which has been shown to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases and stroke, and is beneficial for balance and mobility with age.
3. Healthy foods are bland foods = FALSE
It’s true - salt and fat can enhance the flavor of food, and eating a healthy diet limits the intake of both of these ingredients. However, this doesn’t mean that healthy foods are bland. Cooking with herbs is the best way to pack your dishes with flavor, and as a bonus, most herbs provide extra health benefits as well.
For example, flavoring stews with parsley not only provides a fresh flavor using an herb available year-round, but it also is an excellent source of vitamin K, which helps blood clot. A few springs of rosemary and a clove of garlic will go a long way in flavoring any foods sautéed in olive oil, and cinnamon adds an unexpected warmth to cooked grains and poultry rubs while providing anti-inflammatory properties.
4. Malnutrition can’t affect me if I’m eating enough calories = FALSE
Starting around age 40, metabolism begins to slow down, and with that decrease in metabolism often comes a decrease in appetite. Although it is important to monitor portion size to reflect a lightened appetite, it is equally important to remember that eating enough calories does not equate to a nutritious diet.
Malnutrition in older adults can lead to a weak immune system, muscle weakness, and slow healing processes. Eating a diet rich in varied foods is necessary to combat a low-nutrient diet. For those with a small appetite, spacing out small, nutritious snacks throughout the day is a good option for meeting your nutrient goals. Try raw vegetables with hummus, whole-grain toast with nut butter and apple slices, or tunafish salad on sliced cucumbers between meals to maintain a healthy caloric intake without sacrificing nutrients.
Changing my diet is the only change I need to make for my health = FALSE
Although changing your diet is undeniably a huge step toward better health, it is a single piece of a healthy lifestyle. Equally important as dietary change is regular exercise, which strengthens bones and muscles, controls weight, reduces risk of chronic disease and cancers, and increases mental health and mood - among other benefits.
And surprisingly, a vibrant social life is also a huge lifestyle factor affecting longterm health. Studies show that positive social interactions benefit immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular functions, especially as we age. Using professional in-home care services is one way to provide companionship, but it is not the only way to interact with others. Local resources such as the SeniorCorps, National Center for Creative Aging, and Shepherd’s Centers are all possible avenues for building friendships at old age.
Bringing a qualified care provider into your home can help you or your aging loved one maintain a healthy and balanced diet by preparing meals and monitoring their eating habits, as well as providing valuable companionship. American In-Home Care always refers qualified, screened, care providers that are compassionate and ready to help. Contact us at 1-844-505-0004 to schedule your free in-home consultation to discuss which care options are right for you and your family.