As a caregiver for a parent or family member, you are likely familiar with the stress that goes along with keeping your loved ones healthy and happy. As one ages, appetite and taste preferences will change and it can be frustrating to know what foods can and should be consumed in order to keep an elderly adult healthy.
What Foods Will Help my Loved One Stay Healthy?
Here are six key nutrients and food sources to pay attention to, to help your older loved ones stay healthy:
A B12 deficiency is most commonly caused by digestive difficulties that prevent the body from actively and effectively absorbing B12. As one grows older, this absorption can decrease, especially if overall caloric intake decreases as you age. B12 is important for cognitive function (memory and mood), nerve impairment (which can affect balance) and anemia (low red blood cell count which carries oxygen in the blood and can therefore lead to shortness of breath). Sources of B12 include liver, fortified soy products like tofu, fortified cereals such as All Bran, beef, dairy (milk and cheese) and eggs.
Calcium is important for bone and teeth health, muscle contraction, and blood coagulation. While most calcium is absorbed during the child and young adult stages, adequate amounts of calcium during elderly years can help slow done bone loss. The most common sources of calcium are found in dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt. Keep in mind if your loved one is lactose intolerant, yogurt and hard cheeses have lower levels of lactose than milk. Calcium can also me found in non-dairy alternatives such as almond or soymilk, fortified juices, canned salmon, and leafy greens.
Potassium, an electrolyte, is responsible for energy level, brain function, and is required to maintain metabolism and normal heart and muscle function. As we age, kidney function may decline and this increases the amount of potassium excreted in the urine. It is important to consult a doctor about your potassium levels. Sources of potassium include Fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, peas, tomatoes, avocados, bananas, potatoes and citrus fruits.
Magnesium helps keep your immune system, bones, and heart strong. As with other nutrients, absoprtion can decrease with age and with certain medications. Low levels of magnesium are also associated with inflammation. The best sources of magnesium include leafy greens, nuts, beans and peas, and whole grain cereals.
While fiber is important during all stages of life, one may argue that as you age it becomes increasingly essential. Many nutrients can be deficient due to gastric motility and decreased absorption and fiber can help improve this motility and prevent constipation. Fiber can also help keep blood sugars stable to prevent or stabilize diabetes, and lower cholesterol. Whole grains and vegetables are two of the best sources of fiber, as well as fruits with the skin on them such as apples and berries. If chewing is an issue the berries or apples can be cooked down to soften the skin.
Omega 3 Fats
Omega 3 fatty acids help lower inflammation (combating arthritis), help protect bone and heart health, and are correlated with improved mood and memory, therefore making this a great nutrient to be mindful of for aging loved ones. Fatty fish like salmon (including canned) and trout are great sources of omega 3, and this is also found in olive oil, flax seeds/ground flax (can easily mix into smoothies or oatmeal), avocado, and nut and nut butters.
To help keep your elderly loved ones healthy and happy, write out a list of the foods mentioned above and check them off as they are consumed each week or plan them into meals ahead of time. Don’t worry; it is not realistic to consume all these foods every week but a checklist can help you gauge what foods may be important to incorporate the following week. A well-varied diet is going to allow for the best possible array of nutrients for your parents and loved ones.