Everyone's been told time and again the importance of eating well. For seniors, this is especially true. As adults age, they become prone to an increasing number of chronic health problems, not to mention the physical and cognitive aspects of the natural aging process. Both of these factors can, in many cases, be kept at bay with a healthy lifestyle, of which a well-rounded diet is an essential part.
For some, however, eating healthily isn't quite so simple a proposition. Seniors especially may find it difficult to adhere to a proper diet for a variety of reasons both real and perceived. As a caregiver, healthcare professional or family member, helping the elder adult in your life to maintain good eating habits is a crucial part of senior care. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help make the idea of keeping a balanced diet more palatable.
What are some obstacles to healthy eating?
Sticking to a healthy diet may seem fairly straightforward, but in reality, a number of factors may prevent it. One significant element that may affect a senior's ability to eat well is money. Many retirees live on fixed incomes, pensions or retirement funds, and don't necessarily have as much money to spend as they did when they were working. As a result, many older adults may be drawn toward lower-cost processed foods. Unfortunately, these options are often nutritionally vacant.
For some, the problem isn't necessarily buying healthy food so much as it is preparing it. Certain adults are unable to prepare healthy meals due to illness or disability. As a result, these individuals may turn to processed or fast foods out of convenience.
It's also important to remember that one of the major obstacles seniors face when it comes to eating well may simply be lack of nutritional education. Many people may not keep a balanced diet not because they can't or choose not to, but simply because they don't know what a healthy diet consists of.
It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle change
Some may attempt to grab the reins on their eating habits by adopting a crash diet. You've likely heard of some of these - the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet and other variants that claim to promote weight loss by restricting certain foods. However, crash diets are seldom effective and may even have negative consequences. As the National Institutes of Health Senior Health noted, deciding to eat well isn't like flipping a switch. Food choices shouldn't be viewed through the lens of a fad diet, but rather as a change one makes to his or her overall lifestyle. For those not used to eating well, this can be a difficult adjustment, but the source noted that making small dietary changes over a period of time can be a good way to form better habits.
Healthy eating fundamentals
The best way to help seniors eat better is to encourage them to focus on healthy, nutrient-rich foods. HelpGuide.org pointed out a few foundational essentials that every senior should focus on. For example, fruits, vegetables and fish are all solid dietary building blocks since they provide essential nutrients and are easy to incorporate into many different recipes.
If money is an issue, there are ways to encourage people to eat healthy that are budget-friendly. According to NIH Senior Health, one of the best ways to cut down on grocery bills is to plan meals and snacks before doing the shopping. That way, it's possible to only buy what's needed and reduce money spent on junk or snack foods. Fresh produce and healthy meats and fish can be cost-effective if the shopping is planned in advance.