Winter nutrition as you age

by John Baldwin, FLT Columnist

When the temperature drops, healthy eating can become less of a priority. As winter settles in, staying inside and piling extra cheese on a chilidog may sound more inviting than squeezing fresh lemon on an arugula salad. Keeping a healthy diet in winter can be a challenge, especially if you are an older adult.
With age, the body naturally starts to become less efficient in absorbing essential nutrients. Some seniors also face chewing, swallowing and digestion challenges or experience a decreased appetite from diminished taste buds. Certain health conditions and medications also can interfere with the elderly consuming nutritious foods and the right amount of calories. Add in wintertime cocooning and decreased activity, and many seniors opt for a diet of convenient, comfort foods laden with empty calories.
As adult home care providers, we see the importance of ensuring that the elderly are eating well and eating enough every day. Winter is tough on seniors because the harsh weather limits them from getting out to buy fresh foods or to exercise. Families want to know that their aging loved ones are adequately nourished, so our caregivers often assist with grocery shopping, cooking well-balanced meals and monitoring eating habits. Sometimes a few simple dietary adjustments are all that is needed to keep older adults enjoying healthier foods.
During winter, seniors can benefit from better nutrition through resistance to illness, an emotional boost against “cabin fever” and better management of overall health conditions. We recommend that wintertime nutrition includes the following:

• Dark, leafy green vegetables. Choose antioxidant-rich, dark greens such as spinach, broccoli, kale and chard, and select yellow and orange vegetables including yams, carrots and squash.
• Citrus fruits. Oranges, lemons, grapefruit and limes are popular vitamin C-packed citrus fruits also rich in flavonoids that promote good HDL cholesterol. For greater health benefits, it is best to consume whole fruits instead of processed juices, which often contain extra sugars.
• Protein. Eating protein sources at meals and snacks throughout the day helps with blood sugar and energy levels. Beyond red meat, seniors can vary protein sources with eggs, fish, dairy and nuts.
• Soups and stews. Adding vegetables, beans and lentils to stews and soups is an easy, inexpensive way to increase fiber and nutrients. Cook a larger pot of a recipe and divide into smaller portions to freeze.
• Vitamin D. With less sunshine in winter, the body needs other sources of vitamin D to help absorb calcium and strengthen muscles. Foods naturally higher in vitamin D include egg yolks, seafood, grains and fortified milk.

As a general nutrition guideline, older adults are advised to consume most of their daily calories from plant-based foods — grains, nuts and greens — closer to their whole or natural state. For seniors who rarely cook, in-home care assistance or local delivered meals are a plus. If elders want to purchase frozen or ready-to-eat meals, be selective by reading labels for nutrition content.
For an overview of optimum dietary choices, WebMD lists a number of nutrients that may be missing from the diet of seniors including vitamin B12, calcium and magnesium. Encourage your older loved ones to talk with their geriatrician, doctor or dietician for a tailored nutrition plan that accounts for specific health needs and dietary likes and dislikes.
No matter what age you are, an occasional wintertime cheesy chilidog is OK, but don’t forget the carrot sticks and glass of fortified milk.
Right at Home, In Home Care and Assistance, is a locally owned and operated franchise office of Right at Home, Inc., serving the communities of Wood, Lucas and parts of Sandusky counties. For more information, contact Right at http://www.rahnwohio.com/, 567-336-6062 or by email at jbaldwin@rahnwohio.com.