Five Superfoods for the Elderly

Our entire lives we hear about how important it is to eat healthy. For most of us, it’s something we hear and always wish we could improve on, but struggle to have the motivation to do so. Instead of thinking of how hard a lifestyle change can be, start thinking of how much better you will feel when you eat food that will actually fuel your body. This is especially true for the elderly. The common mindset among the elderly is that as you get older, you get weaker. While this is true to an extent, it also has to do a lot with the foods that we are putting in our bodies. It is possible for those who are aging to have strong, energetic bodies. I have a great aunt who lives in the Colorado Rockies, she is 86 years old and still hikes them frequently. I can guarantee you that she did not remain fit by frequently indulging in the processed foods that we commonly eat today. Here is a list of five superfoods that can help you maintain a healthy physique as you age:

 

  1. Avocados

Avocados are probably one of the best superfoods on the market. For the elderly they can help with digestion, as they are full of fiber. Avocados are known to be a heart healthy food that contains potassium which can reduce the risk of heart problems, stroke, kidney failure, and can even help lower blood pressure. They are fat soluble, which means that they help your body absorb the nutrients in other healthy foods that you eat with them. There have also been studies that show that the nutrients in avocados can help prevent cancer, relieve arthritis pain, and promote eye, skin, and hair health. You can eat these plain or in soups, salads, and smoothies.

 

  1. Blueberries

Blueberries are another great superfood! They are full of Vitamins C, A and K. They are another heart healthy food that can help in lowering cholesterol. Blueberries also contain flavonoids which can help your night vision and keep your brain sharp! They are yummy to just snack on, put in oatmeal/yogurt, or to use in smoothies!

 

  1. Quinoa

This is one of those superfoods that is lesser known. Quinoa is a grain and is a good source of iron, calcium, fiber, magnesium and protein. These nutrients can help relieve constipation, build strong muscles, relax the muscles, increase blood flow, and is good to help your body eliminate disease causing toxins. Quinoa can be used as a side dish, in salads, as a breakfast cereal, in soups, or in baked goods.

 

  1. Pink Salmon

Pink salmon contains lots of Vitamin D, which is good for bone health. And is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids which can lower the risk of heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, and lower blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acids may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Make sure you get salmon that is wild caught. It is way healthier and doesn’t contain lots of the toxins that farm manufactured fish do. Salmon can be baked in the oven with olive oil and whatever seasonings you prefer.

 

  1. Broccoli

Broccoli is good for us for many reasons and it’s simple to make, which is a win! Broccoli is full of fiber, helps with metabolism and lowering blood sugar. It can also lower the risk of high cholesterol, osteoporosis, certain cancers and heart disease. It is stocked full of vitamins A, C, B9, and K; all of which will boost your immune system and bones. When you cook broccoli, it is best to steam it so that you don’t lose the nutrients in the boiling water.

 

Whether you are living independently, in an assisted living home or nursing care facility. It is up to you to set the standard for your health. Just making simple changes in what you eat can really help you maintain a more enjoyable lifestyle. If you are a family member reading this with a loved one in an assisted living or a nursing care facility, try to encourage your family member by helping them buy healthy foods and coming up with creative ways to eat them.

Anxiety & Worry

  Much of the population of America struggles with anxiety and worry.  Don't believe me?  It is estimated that more than 40 million Americans have been diagnosed with anxiety and a large percentage of those people are on anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication in order to treat the symptoms. Anxiety is a force to be reckoned with, but often it wins the battle, especially as people begin to add more years of experience to their days.  When you have lived long enough, you begin to realize that bad things really do happen to good people, young people and even the most careful of people.  The things you've lived through personally might be enough to fill volumes of books. But if it is a force to be reckoned with, we need to be armed to fight against it, lest it overcome us.  Most people know that anxiety and worry are huge stressors on the body and can cause long term damage to our physical health and psyche.  What most people don't know is how to get the anxiety and worry to stop.  In some cases, there might be chemical imbalances that are causing the deep cycles of anxiety and worry. If this is the case for you, do not feel guilt about getting help.  In many cases, however, a change in lifestyle and a few simple helps can greatly reduce your feelings of anxiety, provided you're willing to make lifestyle changes.  Even if you are on medication, these ideas might be helpful to you and perhaps over time you could reduce the amount of medication that you need.  If you are up for a challenge, read on.

  If you are like most of us, food is a large part of your life, but not necessarily the healthiest part.  Our culture is saturated with quick, easy meals that are destroying our ability to fight against depression.  Foods high in starch and fat sit heavily in our guts with very few vitamins and minerals able to be absorbed.  “Simply” making some changes to diet can be a great help.  But simple things are not always easy to put into practice.  If you're not used to eating vegetables a few times a day, increase them.  Take out grains unless they're whole grains.  See how you feel.  Cut out sugar.  I wouldn't advise doing this all at once, but take each a step at a time and pay attention to how different you feel.  You'll find the things that make the biggest difference for you over time.

  Cut out caffeine.  Caffeine can increase your cortisol levels.  When those go up, your anxiety levels naturally follow.  You can't help but feel nervous and jittery when there is a stimulant coursing through your system.  If you are a heavy caffeine consumer, you'll need to wean yourself off gradually sodas not to get major headaches.  Replace your drink of choice with healthy alternatives that have some vitamin benefits, like smoothies, or herbal teas.  This one change can be the difference between an anxiety filled day and one that you can keep under control.

  Exercise.  Endorphins released during exercise can boost your mood and also keep the anxiety at bay because that energy is being spent on something useful.  Speaking of useful, instead of going to a gym to exercise, try exerting that energy in a way that is meaningful to you and your family so that you will get more than one benefit.  Garden or raise animals.  Remodel parts of your house.  Paint rooms that are in need of TLC.  Spending that nervous energy in a useful way will make you feel better, even if you end up exhausted.

  Set a timer.  It's going to sound strange, but start setting a timer if you find yourself worrying too much about one particular issue.  It's honorable to try to come up with solutions to problems in your life, but if you're not careful, they'll take over your thought life.  So, set a timer, perhaps even keep a record book of when your time to think deeply about a subject is scheduled for.  Jot down any ideas that can help you to solve the problem.  Then, let it go.  When it tries to re-enter, push it away and go and do something physically different.  Wash dishes, fold clothes, change the oil in your car, research grafting fruit trees, ANYTHING!  Doing something else or researching other subjects will break the cycle.  If you follow this pattern enough, your body will form new pathways in the brain and will begin changing the subjects you dwell on in shorter amounts of time.  It is the formation of a new habit, so be relentless with yourself, especially at first.  If it's 2:00 AM and your mind will not stop, get up and start a load of laundry, then read or do something else productive.  Many people find that they are eventually able to wake, decide that they'll think about that problem during a certain set time the next day and go back to sleep with enough practice.  It can be life-changing to be able to give yourself permission to sleep despite the fact that there are frayed ends in your life.  The truth is, there will always be frayed ends, unfinished business or less than satisfactory outcomes, but losing sleep doesn't improve them, or you.

  It is said that most of what we worry about is out of our control.  Many people worry about the past, which they cannot change.  That is a complete waste of energy.  If you are worried that you've hurt someone in the past, ask forgiveness (actionable step) and move on.  If there is nothing you can do about a past situation, worry will not change one thing.  If you're worried about some future thing, decide whether there is anything tangible you can do about it.  If there is, plot a course of action...write it down in your book.  If there is not, then no amount of worry will change it, so let it go. 

  Worry and anxiety are things that eat away at the very core of who we are.  If we allow them to carry on in our heads without capturing them and making them submit to our will, they will drag us down to our lowest point.   Our physical, emotional & mental health is dependent upon us making a change for the better within our own minds. 

Meal Planning for the Elderly

Food is a matter of much discussion all across the country.  It evokes emotions all across the spectrum, especially if people have food related illnesses that need to be controlled, like diabetes.  Food is a topic of debate even with people in their younger years.  Should you have more protein in your diet or more fat?  Should you limit your carbohydrates?  How much sugar is acceptable and which forms of sugar are healthy?  We can easily open up a can of worms if you bring up a specific kind of diet plan, and everyone seems to have an opinion about what is best.

For elderly people, diet and meal planning may not be as much of a hot topic but it has, perhaps the greatest potential to change health outcomes among any group of people alive.  The method discussed below will be for a one or two person household that has to plan for every meal throughout the week.  There are a variety of ways to make this process even easier, one is by using an internet-based food delivery system.  Another way is to use Amazon.com or another internet-based business to order staple supplies, like canned goods, that you can used for multiple meals.  It saves you the expense and trouble of arranging the transportation of going to the grocery store.  There are other systems, such as nutria-system, that will do the work of meal planning for you and you only need to arrange for the pick up or delivery of the food.   If you are on a tight budget, also look into a program called, “Meals on Wheels” which may be available in your area for a meal on a regular basis.

 

If you are starting from scratch, print a blank calendar for one month.  Divide each day into 3 sections by placing lines across the box.  On a separate piece of paper write down the things you’ve discussed with your doctor or nutritionist that need to be incorporated into your diet.  Many elderly people find that they are not getting enough protein, some also find that they need to cut sugar out of their diets.  Some need to include more foods with iron or calcium.  Whatever your needs are, write them out on the paper beside your calendar so that you do not lose sight of that while you’re making your plan.  Research which foods carry the goal nutrients you’re hoping to increase & write them beside your list.  If you choose to plan for an entire month, but most people plan for 2 weeks at a time.  If you meal plan for a month, plan to use fresh, quickly perishable foods at the beginning of the month (berries, asparagus, etc).  Longer lasting produce in the middle of the month (carrots, cabbage, apples). And finally, canned options for later in the month.

Now, think about your day & your natural appetite.  If you are not usually hungry in the morning, you can still plan for what you’ll eat for breakfast but make the portions smaller so that you do not feel ill upon eating.  Be sure to write water at the top of each day’s meal if you are trying to improve your hydration.  It is a simple item that often gets overlooked when one lives alone.

As you plan for your breakfast, be sure to include a protein, fat, carbohydrate and a fruit or vegetable each meal.  Protein is very important at the first meal because it helps to keep your blood sugars stabilized throughout the day.  The carbohydrate will give you the quick energy that you need to get up an get moving.  An example of a balanced breakfasts might be: 1 scrambled egg (or egg white) with spinach, 1 piece of toast with butter, & a handful of cherries.

Another option might be: A bowl of oatmeal with fruit and cream, and a hard-boiled egg. Some people try to eliminate anything sweet from their diets, but it is better to include fruit with a low glycemic index so that you eat a bit occasionally instead of starving yourself of it and then crashing and eating half of a chocolate cake.  If you find that you need to reduce your sugar intake drastically but cannot kick the cravings, begin taking a strong probiotic.  These bacteria help to digest the sugars and the candida in your body, balance out your own gut bacteria and eventually nearly eliminate cravings for sugars.

Lunches are generally the largest meal of the day, but feel free to adjust to your own lifestyle.  Include a type of starchy carbohydrate to hold you over for the afternoon, something like rice, potatoes or pasta.  Whole grains options are much better for sluggish digestion than their enriched and bleached counterparts. Add in a protein, and a lot of vegetable options.  Have milk or another type of drink that includes calcium if you’re supposed to be improving your calcium intake.   This is generally the best time to take vitamins, as well, as your stomach will be more stable and the heavier food makes it easier to digest them without upset.

Suppers should include similar things to lunch, but in lighter proportions for easier and faster digestion.  Remember that you’ll be lying down a few hours after you eat, so if you like spicy food, you may want to have it over the lunch hour rather than the supper hour so that heartburn will not keep you awake!

With all of these things in mind, make out your meal plan.  Include a few foods that you enjoy, but do not have regularly, like fish perhaps.  This gives you something to look forward as you begin to prepare for your week.

After you’ve finished shopping in the store or online, and before you put the items away, get your meal plan out.  Look at what types of meals you have listed.  If you have several meals that include ground beef, for instance, that need to be browned, take the opportunity to brown it now.  You can freeze it in individual meal portions for use later in the week or month.  Also take care of washing, shredding, dicing and chopping any produce that will need that preparation.  One of the chief complaints that I hear from senior citizens regarding food preparation is that it doesn’t seem worth it to go to all that trouble and have all those dishes “just for me”.  If you consolidate the food prep into one evening, it cuts down drastically on the dishes because instead of having to haul out the frying pan for each time you need to brown a ¼ # of meat, you only haul it out once and wash it once.

Make sure to mark any of the portions that you refrigerate or freeze in advance so you know what  is included and perhaps even write which meal you planned it for.

Another thing to consider when you’re making your meal plan, if you have the funds to do so, is to plan a couple of meals that you could share with others.  Plan on having someone over a couple of times during the month.  This will give you confidence to do so without having to come up with a plan at the last minute.  It will also help you to have something to look forward  to.  If you have young children that come to visit, consider adding the ingredients for cookies or a dessert to your shopping list so that you’re prepared.

Whichever combination of tools you use to be sure that you’re eating properly, be sure to use a meal plan of some kind.  It can be the difference between years of good health and energy and years of just getting by with little energy and stress.  No one really likes to plan meals well in advance, but stress is eliminated, budgets are easier to maintain and health is improved when we do!  Good luck!  If you run out of  ideas, have someone over to eat with you and maybe you can brainstorm together some options that might be good for both of you  to include on your menus in the future!

 

Protein In Senior Adults

Growing older can come with numerous challenges that we did not have to think about as young people.  Joints ache, muscles seize up at inopportune times, our minds seem less able to hold on to pertinent information.  Added to this some of the systems in our bodies can become sluggish and have trouble accomplishing things that once came easily, such as nutrient absorption.  This is prevalent in all aging individuals, but especially those who follow a plant-based diet or those over 70.  Generally speaking, appetite grows less as we age, so it can become a recipe for disaster if we’re not careful.

Protein is used by our bodies in a number of ways.  It helps us to build and maintain muscle mass.  Structurally, it is important in muscles, bones & tendons.  It helps with the collagen in your skin.  It helps different enzymes be able to react chemically in our bodies to perform specific tasks that are important.  It helps to regulate the clotting of the blood & the amount of water that is retained in the body’s arteries and veins.  It can help to regulate your blood sugars so that you don’t have intense drops that make you shaky or mentally foggy.  It helps in so many ways, really, that it would take months to write about it all.  As we age, however, our body’s ability to pull the protein out of food becomes a bit more difficult, so it’s important to have protein at each meal.  You do not need loads in order to reap the benefits, just go with the recommended amounts.  It’s also extremely important to be sure you have proper gut health before you begin.  If you lack proper microbial gut health from good bacteria, you could end up not benefitting at all from the adequate amounts of protein.

Some of the best sources of protein for aging adults are found in lean animal meats.  Things like: poultry (chicken, turkey, grouse, pheasant), fish, lean beef cuts, and others are easy to source and delicious.  Milk, eggs and other dairy products are another source of quick and easy protein. There are also several proteins that can be derived from plants if you’re averse to eating animal products.  Legumes such as peas & beans are great sources of protein, but you may need to do research to see if you need to add something else to your diet in order to make it a “complete” protein.  It is usually recommended that if you eat a plant-based diet, you should have beans and corn together to make it complete.  Nuts and seeds can also be excellent sources of protein.  Check online to find their protein percentages and work out a schedule based on those percentages to see how often, and at what times of day you’d like to incorporate each type of protein into your diet.

Often it is not a lack of willingness on our part, but rather a lack of understanding how to start.  Begin by researching recommended protein amounts for your body weight.  Next, take into consideration the times that you eat and what your standard routine is around meal times.  You will, for instance, not want to have heavier proteins later at night or you may not be able to sleep with all of the digesting that is taking place!  Make a menu plan or a rotational schedule that you can easily follow to be sure you know which things to buy.  Finally, eat them even if you do not have a strong appetite!  If your appetite is iffy, perhaps try an excellent probiotic for the first few months.  You’ll probably notice a dramatic increase in appetite if your gut bacteria is adequate.  After you’ve started your new diet, keep records.  Record what you’ve eaten and your energy levels, feelings of anxiety and also muscle strength and mental clarity.  Many people report all of these things improving dramatically after increasing their protein by even slight amounts.   Be sure to take some time today to evaluate whether increased protein could help you!

 

Cooking for the Elderly

 Most people find it challenging to cook flavorful, nutritious food.  When you're trying to cook for one or two people without food waste, it becomes even more challenging.  When those people are aging and are in need of special consideration in their diets, it becomes particularly overwhelming.  So how DO you cook for a senior or a couple of seniors while paying heed to dietary needs, flavor, & trying not to waste food?

 

  1. Pay attention to doctor's orders. If your doctor has warned the person against a certain food, refuse to have it in the house.  It will make it much easier not to have the temptation around.  If it's something that can be used in moderation, you can still have it around, but consider dividing it into portions straight away when you get it home from the store.  For instance, if you're supposed to limit refined sugar intake, determine a likely offender source ( a sweet snack) and divide it into snack bags.  Then you can put the bags into the freezer & decide what the limit is for the day.
  2. Pay attention to food preferences. It doesn't matter how much a nutritionally sound diet that you come up with, if your client or loved one does not prefer that kind of food, they're not going to eat it!  Look at the things that they like & work from that starting point.  If they like pasta and sauce, try to find ways to incorporate healthy things into that dish, add vegetables or change the grains in the pasta to be a healthier option.  If they don't like a certain type of food, respect that.  They've been on the planet long enough to know what they like & what they don't!
  3. Think about ways you can incorporate similar things into you meal plan to cut down on food waste. For example, if you plan to have chicken breasts for chicken parm, buy a couple extra, bake them at the same time as the others & then have strips of chicken in a salad for lunch some time throughout the week.  It will cut down on your time in the kitchen, and also provide another healthy meal.  If you think like that all across the board, you'll be surprised at how many options you can come up with!
  4. If it's necessary, consider softer food options. Sometimes as we age, it can become necessary to have softer foods.  Hot soup might become boring if served all of the time, but there are a number of things that are fairly easy to chew and swallow that are not soup.  Bake squash, make mashed potatoes and carrots, enjoy fruit smoothies, & make egg dishes.  You might also want to try out some cold soup options for your client or loved one.  They can be delightful, especially when the temperatures start warming up!
  5. Whatever you decide to cook, make sure that it is served in an atmosphere that is conducive for digestion. Don't serve meals in front of the television.  Food eaten slowly & with care is enjoyed more thoroughly.  Food eaten with friends & loved ones is even better.  Play their favorite music in the background.  Discuss favorite topics.  There is much more to healthy eating than the food itself!  
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