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Elderly Nutrition

Posted July 08, 2014 by Dawn Saurer RD, LD, CNSC

Nutrition in every stage of life is very important. What else did you expect a dietitian to say? But seriously, nutrition during aging becomes vitally important as calorie needs decrease and the need for nutrient-dense foods increases.

What is a nutrient-dense food? Well, it's not food that is heavy or dim-witted! Nutrient-dense foods pack tons of nutrition into items with fewer calories in an attractive package. They are found most conveniently package usually in the perimeter of the grocery store.

My grandma was an excellent example of this. She was 100% Swiss and, with my grandpa, ran a dairy farm in Rittman Ohio. She loved dairy, fruits and vegetables. With that Swiss heritage came a…..shall we say, preciseness in every area of life. Everything in its place.

She would dine on a sweet potato noting aloud, "It doesn't need anything, butter or sugar, it's already sweet." On the side was a modest pile of cottage cheese. She always bought fresh pineapple, grapefruit and bananas. Bananas she purchased in varying stages to be consumed at the perfect ripeness. I'm pretty sure my attention to picking the best fruits came from her!

One doesn't have to be a Swiss grandma to enjoy the fruits/vegetables/grains of the earth.

Here's a list of some delightful examples of nutrient-dense foods:

  • Dark-green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, swiss chard, mixed lettuces, etc.
  • Any vegetable!! Cucumbers, peppers, eggplant ,tomatoes, onions, garlic, beans, carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, corn, etc. That means you too, potato -- much maligned by "popular" diets. These are delicious raw, steamed or sautéed in a bit of healthy fats, such as olive or peanut oil.
  • High-fiber whole grains: 100% whole grain breads, whole grain pasta, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa (pronounced keen wah), etc.
  • Fresh fruits — citrus, bananas, apples, grapes, watermelon, berries of any kind, mangoes, peaches, nectarines, plums, etc. Any fruit will do!
  • Lean meats and protein sources: Eggs, chicken, fish, turkey, pork, and yes, lean beef. Did you know that the egg is the standard for the protein most available to the body? It gets a 100%! Other good sources of protein are cottage cheese, peanut butter, beans, lentils.

FACT: Studies have shown that older adults do not always consume enough protein. This could be due to changes in teeth, dentures, decreased appetite, availability, food insecurity, and illness. Making an effort to consume a bit of protein at each meal can help preserve muscle mass. It's a rip-off-but as aging occurs, muscle mass decreases and fat stores go up.

  • Dairy products — milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. Go for low fat if you must. Or moderately consume good, old regular fat dairy. New research is discerning whether higher fat dairy may actually be beneficial. This is controversial at best, so tread lightly. Those who have a diagnosis of heart disease need to opt for low-fat dairy for now.

Does it mean you can't have dessert? NO! Please do. Just don't make it every day or every meal. Desserts are a celebration! So enjoy in moderation. My grandma loved a small custard cone without guilt. Let's follow her example!

Next time on the Dietitian portion of the Summa Flourish blog, we'll tackle Vitamin D!

Dawn Saurer RD, LD, CNSC
Clinical Dietitian
Summa Health System


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