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Helping Seniors Maintain a Healthy Diet

man smiling in red shirtI am trying to work with my mom’s eating habits. She lives with me, but when I travel for work she has such a bad and irregular diet. If left to her own devices, she chooses processed microwavable meals that are packed with sodium. I try to leave a few meals behind in the freezer that she can use but she complains about the flavor. Her choices impact her general health. Her arthritis flares up and she is less clear in her thoughts and has more problems walking. Please help me help her.

- Beth in Holland

Hi Beth,

It can be trying to care for a parent, especially when issues like these arise. Your efforts are commendable and it seems like you are willing to compromise with having a few of her favorite meals on hand. You also notice how sensitive her physical and mental well-being correlates to her choices in diet. Let me provide some additional support that you can share with mom.

A balanced diet is extremely important to maintain the long-term health for seniors. The right diet with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and fish will provide proper nutrition, support the immune system, enhance mental clarity and speed healing.

It is hard to stay vital and engaged when illness strikes. Prevent that with meeting daily senior requirements in whole foods that are colorful and rich in nutrients. According to the National Institute of Aging, women over 50 that are sedentary need approximately 1600 calories a day and those who are somewhat active require around 1800 calories. Fresh foods are lower in calories than many processed alternatives and help women stay within a healthy weight range as well.

Food high in starch, salt and sugars can be more appealing to a senior’s palate. Many lose some sense of taste and even temperature. Food can often taste bland to them or be perceived as too hot or too cold. Individuals need to reduce their intake of starches as they age. Instead, increase consumption of non-starchy vegetables such as asparagus, beets, eggplant, greens, mushrooms and onions.

You are right to be concerned about her diet. Keep preparing healthy home-cooked meals, leaving serving sized portions in the refrigerator for her to grab when she is hungry. May I recommend eliminating, or at least reducing, the processed foods in the home? This will help eliminate the temptation to stray from a healthy diet.

Make cooking an enjoyable social activity. Cook and prepare meals together. She will be reminded of those times and the associated feel-good emotions every time she warms up a meal for herself!

Resthaven staff engages seniors in making better eating choices. Every single choice they make can help them to improve their health and overall well-being and reduce the symptoms of illness and chronic health conditions. Seniors begin to appreciate the spike in energy and develop a new relationship with the food that they eat.

One of our residents remarked, “I appreciate how the dining staff helps me understand the foods I need to eat and not just respond to the foods I want to eat. I shouldn’t live on desserts!” Call an informed Resthaven coordinator at (616) 796-3800 to discuss how food can improve your loved one’s overall health.

- Jef Koert, Dining Services Manager at Resthaven

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