Hidden Hurdles of Healthy Eating as a Senior
Updated: Nov 24
It’s no secret that eating well and eating healthy are important for anyone, but this is especially true for the seniors in our lives. As we age, the body simply doesn’t digest foods as efficiently as it once did. This is why it is even more important that the foods they are eating are healthy and nutritious. But eating healthy isn’t always that easy. Not only can it be a little difficult to encourage our seniors to eat healthier foods, but there are often underlying issues that hinder their nutrient absorption. Below are a few things to keep in mind when encouraging a senior loved one to eat better.
Often, one of the limitations to eating healthy is the actual act of chewing or swallowing. Seniors may have difficulty chewing their foods properly and this can put an extra strain on the digestive system. Chewing foods thoroughly allows our bodies to properly break down the foods and leads to better absorption of the nutrients. Properly chewing our foods is also important in preventing any situations where food might get stuck or cause a senior to choke. If your loved one is having difficulties chewing food or you notice that they often choke on things, it might be time to have a conversation on the subject. Discuss the possibility of food substitutions into easier to manage forms. Think about the meals they often eat and consider swapping any hard, and crispy items for a softer, more thoroughly cooked version. Another important step is to cut items down into a more manageable size.
A major component to this discussion is our loved one’s teeth. Teeth are vital to chewing and there may be some issues that are affecting their chewing abilities. Talk to your loved one about any tooth pain or problems that may be impacting their chewing. For those that wear dentures, be sure to ask and make sure they fit properly and don’t cause any sort of pain. Dental pain or issues can often cause someone to limit their food intake and thus limit their body’s nutrient intake.
Food Sensitivities and Intolerance
One major hindrance to getting the nutrition we require can be underlying food intolerance that may have been ignored or completely unaware of. Be mindful of any comments your loved one mentions about their body or gut after any particular foods.
If they seem to mention that they’re stomach feels bloated after that slice of cake, it might be worthwhile to investigate a gluten allergy. Likewise, dairy intolerance are common as we age and having too much dairy can cause diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps, bloating and gas. Any one of these symptoms may be misaligned to some other factor but nevertheless hinders our body from absorbing the nutrients it needs.
If your senior loved one is eating too many of the foods their body is intolerant to, this will impact the nutrient absorption of the other foods they eat. So while it may seem that your loved one is eating well, the nutrients may not be absorbed properly because of the aforementioned side effects.
Medications have all kinds of side effects and these can often disrupt our appetite or even shut it down altogether. It’s important to know what the side effects of their medications are and time them properly so that they don’t diminish their appetite at crucial times. Some medications can also have other side effects such as dry mouth and less saliva production. Saliva is crucial to both encouraging our eating and aiding in the process of chewing. Less saliva means they are unable to chew their food properly and this increases the risk of choking.
Comfort foods are great and often come with a lot of memories of the past. They can rekindle memories and are so intricately wired into our relationship with food that we feel good when preparing or eating these meals. That's all well and good but it is also important to keep in mind the nutritional value of these foods and limit our intake. If you’re aware that your senior loved one happens to have a lot of indulgent comfort foods they may be taking in too much sodium or sugar. Have a conversation about the nutritional value of these foods so that they are aware of the ingredients and what they do to our bodies. Another option is to find ways in which you can swap some of the ingredients for healthier alternatives. Instead of full fat, dairy ice cream, introduce them to things like dairy free ice cream. For any diabetic seniors, it’s imperative to check ingredients for their sugar amount as well as the type. Try to substitute corn syrup or white sugar for things with a lower glycemic index. Honey, and especially agave nectar, are great sugar substitutes that don’t spike your blood sugar levels like some of the others.
Are you looking for someone to help with your daily routine? Maybe a caregiver to help you with meals, transportation, or medication management? Maybe you just need someone to give you a hand around the house. Whatever it is, we can find a plan that works for you. Our caregivers here at Christian Companions Houston love to help and we're certain we can help your loved one in the Houston area. Please reach out to us today to see how we can help improve your life.