February 7, 2011
Maintaining good nutrition for older adults can be a challenge because many seniors no longer can cook for themselves. What's more, illnesses and medications can affect their appetites. Companionship is one way to help keep seniors interested in good nutrition.
Q.I've been helping my 77-year-old widowed father cook. What foods does he need at his age?
Cooking for seniors can be a challenge and many elderly people no longer are able to prepare meals for themselves. That's why the help you're providing your father may be more appreciated than you know. To further complicate matters, the elderly sometimes lose their appetites because of illness or depression, or have a difficult time with certain foods if they have poor teeth.
"The elderly have lower metabolic rates, lower proportions of lean muscle to fat mass and, in many cases, lower activity rates," said Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy, and senior scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. "As a result, they have lower caloric needs but certainly not lower nutritional needs," said Lichtenstein, who helped develop a food pyramid for seniors – the first of its kind – that modified the current U.S. Food Guide pyramid for healthy people over 70 years old.
That makes individual food choices even more important for seniors. "Within each category of foods, seniors should choose those that are nutrient dense, that is, have relatively high levels of vitamins and minerals per calorie," Lichtenstein said. "It's also vital for older people to consume adequate water, whether it's water itself, other beverages or foods such as soups, fruits and vegetables – the equivalent of eight 8-ounce glasses daily – to prevent dehydration."
According to the food pyramid, recommended daily food intake for seniors includes:
- 2-3 servings from the milk, yogurt and cheese group
- 3-5 servings of vegetables
- 2-3 servings from the meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts group
- 2-4 servings from the fruit group
- 6-11 servings from the bread, cereal, rice and pasta group
"Keep in mind that within each category, it's important to pick foods your father likes – eating should be a pleasurable experience, not a chore," Lichtenstein said. And don't forget one of the most important ingredients to healthy nutrition for seniors – companionship.
Your father may need help with cooking, but he also needs someone with whom to enjoy his meal. If you're unable to always be there to dine with your dad, encourage him to develop a network of friends to have dinner with. Or hire a professional caregiver, such as one from Home Instead Senior Care®, who is trained to assist with grocery shopping and meal preparation, and available to provide mealtime companionship as well.
By encouraging your father to eat nutritious meals in the company of people he enjoys, you are helping to keep him independent and healthy.
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