6 Easy Ways to Improve Your Diet
Nutrition is the key to health. A 65 year old does not have the same nutritional needs as a 35 year old. Mark Mercure, Pharmacist/Owner at Home Health Care Pharmacy explains 6 different nutritional strategies we can all focus on, and which may be of particular benefit to older adults.
We face so many obstacles on the road to eating healthy. As we age, we often need to eat fewer calories than when we were younger in order to maintain a healthy weight, but we need just as many nutrients. Appetite naturally decreases with age, along with the senses of taste and smell. Some people take medications which can cause nutrients to be poorly absorbed, or a dry mouth, or can contribute to weight gain, all of which work against our efforts to eat healthy.
Let’s look at the most common nutritional problems, and small changes we can make to solve them. We’ll focus on just one important but simple change for each of six nutrient categories.
The biggest change we can make is to improve the QUALITY of the fat in our diet. There are different types of fat.
- Trans-fat – If a nutritional label says that the product contains trans-fat, do not buy it or eat it.
- Saturated fat – Saturated fat is found in cheese, meat, cookies, and ice cream. It’s okay to eat a little bit, but try to substitute to unsaturated fat whenever you can.
- Unsaturated fat – This type of fat is best because it can reduce cholesterol levels and calm inflammation. You will find these in avocados, nuts, seeds, canola and olive oil, and fish. If you don’t eat enough of these foods, you could likely benefit from an Omega-3 supplement. Omega-3 is an important kind of unsaturated fat with many health benefits.
Bottom line: Shift from saturated to unsaturated fats as much as possible.
Carbohydrates are easy to find. Maybe too easy. They provide the body with energy, but too much of course will cause weight gain. Again, QUALITY is the key. When you eat foods that provide carbohydrates, you want to be getting other nutrients at the same time. The best sources of carbohydrates are vegetables, fruit, and whole grains because they come packed with vitamins, minerals, and especially fibre. When foods are refined, or “processed”, they are often stripped of the fibre, and only the sugary carbohydrates are left. Eating lots of these types of processed carbohydrate foods (white bread, pasta, sugary drinks and candy) will cause blood sugar spikes, inflammation, and lead to health problems. Also, not getting enough fibre can cause intestinal problems and constipation. If your diet is lacking in fibre, you might benefit from a fibre supplement.
Bottom line: Eat minimally processed foods, to get more fibre and less sugar.
Meat is a great source of protein, but beef and pork often come served with lots of saturated fat and sodium. The healthiest sources for protein are often fish and lentils. Because a deficiency in protein can lead to increased risk of infections, fragile skin, weakness, and longer healing times. Older adults are especially at risk for protein deficiency. Beneprotein is an instant protein powder that can be mixed into hot or cold drinks, or sprinkled on soups, cereal, or mashed potatoes to help older adults get the additional protein they need.
Bottom line: Focus on getting enough healthy protein each day.
There are lots of vitamins of which are important to our overall health. The one vitamin that we should all focus on is Vitamin D. Most Canadians (60%) have levels of vitamin D which are below what is needed for overall health and disease prevention! And seniors are more at risk of low vitamin D levels than the average Canadian. Clearly, even an above average diet is not good enough at providing the proper amount of vitamin D in Canada. Supplementation is necessary to correct this deficiency. Vitamin D strengthens bones and muscles, boosts immunity, improves mood, reduces inflammation, and improves heart function.
Bottom line: Even with a great diet, a Vitamin D supplement is very beneficial.
Just like vitamins, there are a whole variety of minerals which are needed in the diet to maintain health and prevent illness. The most important ones to look for in abundance are calcium, copper, iron, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. The one to AVOID is sodium, because it is found in most processed foods, deficiency is very rare, and too much can contribute to high blood pressure. The easiest way to get the minerals we need, without too much of the sodium, is to eat nuts. Nuts also contain healthy unsaturated fat and fibre as an added bonus.
Bottom line: Make unsalted nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews) your healthy snack.
Yes, water is an essential nutrient. The recommended amount of water is 1.7 litres each day, which is more than most people will drink. Drinking less than this amount can cause dry mouth, dizziness, weakness, dark urine, constipation, and kidney stones. A good way to tell if you are drinking the right amount of water is to measure out 1.7 litres each morning into a pitcher, and see if you finish drinking it by the end of the day.
Bottom line: Drink water as your go-to beverage with each meal.
Following these six easy suggestions should bring the most benefits with the least amount of effort, and help maintain proper nutrition and good health.
Mark Mercure is certified by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties in Geriatric Pharmacy and is the owner/manager of Home Health Care Pharmacy. He specializes in providing comprehensive medication reviews which help patients optimize medication use and avoid drug-related issues.