Seniors are living longer and eating nutritious meals is an important part of keeping life active and enjoyable. Too often, older adults develop poor eating habits when they live alone. Nutritional deficiencies can result in a weakened immune system placing seniors at a greater risk of colds, flu, viruses, and infections. Health conditions that have developed over decades such as arthritis or diabetes can be directly affected by the foods seniors eat, making it vitally important to eat nutritious foods to maintain physical and mental health.
The Challenges of Aging
As people age, they may find some things are harder to do. The muscles aren’t quite as strong, the joints ache more, and bones are more brittle. Sometimes balance is affected by physical conditions and limitations which increases the risk of falling.
The body is changing, and so are its nutritional needs. In order to maintain optimal well-being for your age and health challenges, you need to adjust your diet to meet your body’s changing needs. Eating alone is frequently a cause of not eating healthy. Sometimes meals are skipped or snack foods are eaten for convenience. To reduce the risk of nutritional deficiencies that can aggravate health issues you may be dealing with, be sure to include foods rich in the following nutrients.
- Calcium is essential for healthy teeth and bones. It also plays an important role in muscle function. A calcium deficiency can cause irregular heartbeat issues and lead to the development of osteoporosis. Your doctor may recommend a calcium supplement. Cheese, seeds (chia, poppy, celery, and sesame), yogurt, almonds, beans and lentils, salmon, spinach, broccoli, figs, tofu, milk all add calcium to your diet.
- Vitamin D is necessary for good bone density and strong muscles. Sunlight is the most common source of vitamin D, but your doctor may suggest a supplement as many people are sensitive to sunlight, have a tendency to skin cancer, or live in cold climates with limited sun during many months. Use sunscreen when outside for extended periods of time.
- Vitamin C is necessary for the absorption of proteins. It’s also an important anti-oxidant and helps to reduce the risk of some illnesses. Oranges, lemons, grapefruit, tomatoes, and bell peppers are all excellent sources of vitamin C.
- Vitamin B12 is necessary for blood formation as well as brain and nerve function. It is found in meats, fish, eggs, and fortified milk. Vegetarians should take a vitamin B12 supplement.
- Vitamin A promotes healthy skin, teeth, bones, and cell membranes. The two types are preformed vitamin A (found in meat and dairy) and provitamin A (found in fruit and vegetables).
- Vitamin E boosts the immune system because it contains anti-oxidants that contribute to disease prevention. Nuts, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, avocados, kiwifruit, and sweet red peppers are sources of Vitamin E
- Magnesium is essential for the health of bones, teeth, and heart health. Deficiencies of magnesium are thought to contribute to heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Dark chocolate, leafy greens, and whole grains provide magnesium. Your doctor may recommend a supplement.
- Iron is necessary to produce hemoglobin for red blood cells. low iron levels also cause anemia which results in low energy, exhaustion, and pale skin color. Heme iron is primarily found in red meat and easy for the body to absorb. Non-heme iron is found in many plant sources but is harder to absorb. You may be advised to take a supplement.
- Iodine is essential for the thyroid to function normally. A deficiency of iron can cause goiter (enlarged thyroid gland), increased heart rate, weight gain, and shortness of breath. Sources include fish, yogurt, seaweed, eggs, and iodized salt.
The above list is not complete, and before taking any supplements, check with your doctor. He or she may want to do blood work to see what deficiencies you may have first. Your doctor may even make an appointment with a nutritionist who can help you plan healthy and nutritious meals that will keep you energetic and happy in your senior years.
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