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Healthy Eating for Your Aging Parents

Healthy eating is a must if we want to ensure our senior relatives happy aging. Food is what keeps our body and mind alive, and thankfully, nowadays people are starting to acknowledge that and pay attention to what, when, and how they eat. While I perceive that as a very positive development, I have to wonder – are we also paying enough attention to what our aging loved ones eat?

Eating well isn’t about dieting, self-torture and denying yourself all the good stuff. It’s actually quite the contrary — quality, freshness,  and balance are all important. It’s necessary to nurture the body to keep a healthy mind, regardless of your age. Although high quality and wide variety of food is very important for all of us, let’s focus on our senior relatives, and make sure that we’re paying enough attention to their sustenance – it’s a critical part of good caregiving.

1. Choose well. It all starts in the supermarket. It takes just a few seconds of your shopping time to stop and read the contents of the product you’re about to buy. Try avoiding saturated and trans fats and foods with a high amount of sugar. Here are some tips on conscious grocery shopping.

2. Fresh and wholegrain. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the pillars of eating healthily. Try incorporating at least 2-3 cups of each per day in your diet, the more colorful and varied types, the better. Wholegrain products should not be missed, either — they contain healthy unsaturated fats that help prevent heart-related diseases. Try eating at least 5 ounces per day, and you’re good to go.

3. Adjust protein intake. Incorporating the right amount of quality protein in your diet can improve your mood, boost resistance to stress, anxiety, and depression, and even help improve thinking and concentration. Don’t just rely on red meat; get some variety — eggs, beans, fish, nuts and dairy products. But don’t over do it. If you’re unsure about the right daily amount for you or your relative, use this protein calculator or consult a doctor.

4. Remember calcium. Speaking of important substances, calcium deserves a place at the top. As we age, our bone structure starts getting weaker. To provide our bones with enough calcium to prevent injuries or decrease the chance of developing osteoporosis, we should consume approx. 1,200 mg of calcium a day. Dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt or milk, or non-dairy calcium sources such as broccoli, kale or tofu need to get on the menu every day.

5. Adequate portions. There’s no point in counting calories or weighing your portions too zealously – only use these measurements as approximate guidelines. Eat only enough to get pleasantly full. In other words, avoid overeating, but don’t starve yourself. I found this quote on the National Institute of Aging’s website that explains the complexity of food portioning:

“A medium banana, 1 cup of flaked cereal, 1½ cups of cooked spinach, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or 1 cup of 1% milk all have roughly the same number of calories. But, the foods are different in many ways. Some have more nutrients than others do. For example, milk gives you more calcium than a banana, and peanut butter gives you more protein than cereal. Some foods can make you feel more full than others.”

6. Don’t forget to drink! With age, people often lose their sense of thirst. Remember: not feeling thirsty is no reliable indicator whether your body needs liquids or not, and the elderly should always have a glass of water at hand. Water makes the body feel more energized, it helps to keep your head clear, and last but not least, it may help prevent infections of the urinary tract.

Unfortunately, there’s no ultimate guide for everyone. Still, for almost everyone, the best bet is adjusting to eating fresher and healthier one step at a time, not putting too much pressure on the body by making big eating habit changes. Also, what’s doing it for someone may not be the way to go for someone else, so don’t be afraid to do a little bit of experimenting and only eat what you like and what makes you feel well.

Last but not least, don’t forget that a person’s diet, especially at older age, may become strongly influenced by various health complications. If the person is suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney problems or obesity, make sure to consult a dietician or a doctor for advice with composing and adjusting to the right diet.