What seniors should be eating

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Monitoring meals: As senior dietary manager at Miller's Senior Living Community in Portage, Tammy Zarych (second from right), makes sure residents, including Ellie Mae Evans (from left), Dorothy Beedie, Doris Worthington and Millie Powell, are eating healthy, balanced meals. | Supplied photo

The good news is, the key to eating healthy in the golden years is the same as it is for people of any age — a healthy, balanced diet and good practice in portion control. The bad news is, according to Tammy Zarych, senior dietary manager at Miller’s Senior Living Community in Portage, it’s just as difficult to follow that advice as it is for young people.

“As people get older, they get set in their ways,” she said.

Many also feel that food they enjoy is all they have to look forward to, since they can’t enjoy the activities they once did.

Pay attention to food choices

Hydration is especially important for older people, as they tend to be less active, Zarych said. Constipation is a very common issue in people with decreased mobility, so plenty of water along with fresh fruits and vegetables will keep things moving. Coffee and alcohol are OK in limited quantities.

Chewing might also become difficult as jaw strength decreases or as people get dentures. It might be necessary to chop foods or to slightly overcook or puree vegetables.

Seasoning also becomes important as people age. Loss of taste buds is part of aging, but so are certain digestive conditions that make spicy foods difficult to handle. It all depends on the individual, so it’s important to pay close attention to what foods create what reaction.

Consider cognitive changes

How a person’s diet changes depends on how they age, Zarych said. Those with diminishing cognitive skills might forget to eat, or they might not remember they’ve already eaten and eat again. Family members taking care of someone with these issues should carefully monitor when and what their loved ones are eating. Zarych advises that not just any family member will be able to coax a reluctant eater, so choosing someone who has a special touch with the person is important.

“You have to know when to be firm and when to back off,” she said.

It’s also important to watch aging relatives closely for weight gain or loss, or other signs they aren’t able to take care of themselves as they once did, she said.

“We put blinders on when it comes to our parents,” she said, and even the most healthy adult might develop an age-related condition, such as dementia, that affects their nutrition.

Start early

It’s never too early — or too late — to pick up better eating habits, Zarych said.

“We just want to be eating a good, healthy, balanced diet and staying active,” she said.

Those who do so early will likely have a better quality of life as they age. But not only that, they’ll have a better quality of life when they’re still young enough to enjoy it, she said.

“We need to enjoy life while we’re young,” she said. “We don’t want to wait for the golden years.”