Nutrition-minded Older Adults Should Heed These Tips
By Kimberly DaSilva with Carrie Taylor and Andrea Luttrell
Your nutritional needs change throughout your lifetime. Some physical changes may impact appetite, senses, and fluctuations in your digestive system. These changes may be due to aging, decreased physical activity, or in conjunction with prescriptive medication suppressing your appetite.
Having a decreased appetite may impact your intake of calories, essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins needed to maintain muscle mass and prevent unintentional weight loss. When it comes to appetite, decreased senses of smell and taste can also affect the enjoyment of your food’s flavor and aroma. For digestion, your gastrointestinal tract could become less mobile and more rigid — leading to issues including constipation, stomach pain, and nausea.
“Produce that freezes well includes tomatoes, corn, carrots, peppers, zucchini, and berries. High-water-content foods such as melons, cucumbers, lettuce, and eggplant should stay clear of the freezer.”
To overcome any decrease in taste and smell, get creative. Cook with spices; herbs; aromatic vegetables like celery, onion, garlic, and shallots; and savory sauces to engage your taste buds. Select higher-quality food; cook seasonal fruits and vegetables so they have a softer mouth feel in recipes like soups, stews, and casseroles; drink plenty of water; and reduce stomach irritants, such as alcohol, to overcome physical changes as well.
As you age, your nutrition may be affected by your social and financial situation versus physical. For example, your social circle may become smaller due to the loss of a spouse, family members, and friends. Living alone and cooking for one while eating on a fixed income can present challenges for some as well.
Not all is lost! Below are some tips when cooking for one on a budget.
Six Nutritional Tips for Older Adults
Older adults have unique nutritional needs.
Simple adjustments can go a long way toward building a healthier eating pattern. Follow these tips from the National Institute on Aging to get the most out of foods and beverages while meeting your nutrient needs and reducing the risk of disease.
• Enjoy a variety of foods from each food group to help reduce the risk of developing diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Choose foods with little to no added sugar, saturated fats, and sodium.
• To get enough protein throughout the day and maintain muscle, try adding seafood, dairy, or fortified soy products, along with beans, peas, and lentils, to your meals.
• Add sliced or chopped fruits and vegetables to meals and snacks. Look for pre-cut varieties if slicing and chopping are a challenge for you.
• Try foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as some cereals, or talk to your doctor about taking a B12 supplement.
• Reduce sodium intake by seasoning foods with herbs and citrus such as lemon juice.
• Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help stay hydrated and aid in the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients. Avoid sugary drinks.
Tip 1: Be a savvy shopper. Get the most out of your food budget and purchase meats and shelf-stable foods when they are on sale. And stock up on fruits and vegetables when they are in season.
Tip 2: Be an organized shopper. Plan meals in advance and create a shopping list from your menu. Buy store brands for the same quality items at a lower cost.
Tip 3: Freeze your meals. When cooking for one, a great option is to cook and freeze meals. To do this, make multiple servings versus just one. Divide quantities into individually sized portions and freeze for future ready-made meals. Planning portions also prevents waste and can save you money.
With cooler weather around the corner, plan for hearty soups, stocks, and quick casseroles. For example, take advantage of less-expensive seasonal fruits and vegetables and preserve their fresh-picked flavor by freezing them.
Why freeze? Freezing temperatures stop the growth of microorganisms while slowing the chemical reactions that break down food and reduce its quality. This makes freezing food perfect for enjoying the taste of summer for seasons to come!
Produce that freezes well includes tomatoes, corn, carrots, peppers, zucchini, and berries. High-water-content foods such as melons, cucumbers, lettuce, and eggplant should stay clear of the freezer. Avoid discoloration of fruits such as peaches, apples, pears, and apricots by tossing with lemon juice prior to freezing.
For the best flavor and texture, use ripe, non-bruised produce free of nicks. Most raw fruit freeze just fine without blanching.
Tips for Freezing
• Rinse and cut produce into the desired size.
• Blanch vegetables before freezing. Drop vegetables in boiling water for one to two minutes, then immediately transfer to an ice bath and chill completely to help stop the cooking process. Drain and pat dry.
• Place fruit or vegetables in a single layer on a sheet pan lined with wax or parchment paper. Place in the freezer until the produce is frozen solid.
• Once frozen, pack into whichever freezer-safe container you prefer — a freezer-safe food-storage bag, a plastic container with an airtight lid, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil. Avoid glass, as it can shatter and cause your food to become unsafe to eat.
• Leave only a half-inch to one-inch space at the top of containers. Reducing food’s contact with air will prevent ‘off’ flavors or freezer burn.
• Store sauces and soups in freezer-safe food-storage bags and lay flat on shelves to save space.
Tips for Storage
• Practice food safety when cooling leftovers. Cool to room temperature for no more than two hours, or one hour for hot summer conditions above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, to avoid the risk of a foodborne illness. Putting hot food directly into the freezer creates condensation on the food, which can lead to freezer burn while possibly raising the temperature of the refrigerator. Although freezer-burned food may have off flavors, it will not cause you harm.
• Label foods with prepared, frozen, and use-by dates. Soups and stews with meat can be frozen for up to two to three months. Leftover meals can be frozen for two to six months, and fruits and vegetables can be frozen for up to one year.
Tips for Thawing
• Determine the quality of food after thawing. First, check odor, as some foods will develop a rancid or off odor when frozen too long. Discard such items. (Note: although some items may not look picture-perfect when frozen, they work exceptionally well in soups, stews, casseroles, and sauces.)
• Never defrost foods at room temperature. Use these three safe ways to defrost food: in a refrigerator running at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, in the microwave, or under cold running water. (Note: for foods thawed in the microwave or by running cold water, cook immediately after thawing.)
Tips for Use
• Enjoy frozen fruit as is, without cooking, for smoothies, flavoring plain yogurt, adding to sautés, and baking recipes.
• Vegetables can be cooked while still frozen and/or after thawing.
• Raw meat and casseroles can be cooked, or reheated, from the frozen state.
• Always reheat and/or cook foods to their recommended internal temperature, as verified with an instant-read food thermometer.
As you can see, any challenges that impact nutrition as you age can be minimized by incorporating a few new practices into your normal routine. Preserving nutrients and flavor of seasonal produce and your favorite recipes by freezing is a great way to control your food budget as well. Happy freezing!
Kimberly DaSilva is dietetic intern with Be Well Solutions. Carrie Taylor, RDN, LDN, RYT and Andrea Luttrell, RDN, LDN are registered dietitians with Big Y.