Woody Allen once quipped, “You can live to be a hundred if you give up all things that make you want to live to be a hundred.”
Eating is sometimes challenging for the elderly — feeding the elderly even more so. Pre-programmed by evolution to prefer soft, sweet, high-energy foods, and trained over years by the food industry to choose them, we’ll opt for a Twinkie over chopped kale every time. Add to that failing taste buds, digestive issues, and deteriorating teeth, and the joy of eating just isn’t what it used to be.
The increasing number of us who suffer from various versions of metabolic disorder — that is, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some forms of cancer — signals that we may have missed some good nutrition class a few years back. If we haven’t managed to give up the foods we love earlier in our lives, how likely are we to give them up now?
Furthermore, so many homes for the elderly offer a bland, tasteless menu laden with white-flour breads and cakes. It’s no wonder waistlines continue to spread and obesity-related disease grows more prevalent as real nutritional content in the diet declines.
Truly good nutrition is the exact opposite of what many elderly individuals want or get. Dr. Joel Fuhrman diagrams that healthy diet concept in his Nutritarian Pyramid and Plate. The idea of the Nutritarian Diet is to get maximum nutrition with minimum calories.
The diet “includes anti-cancer superfoods, which also facilitate weight loss. These foods supply both the right amount of macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) and the vital micronutrients (vitamins, phytochemicals, and minerals) that unleash the body’s incredible power to heal itself and slow the aging process, giving the body renewed vitality.”
Dr. Fuhrman’s ANDI Food Scores rate foods according to a simple formula: H=N/C (Health=Nutrition/Calories). Greens appear at the top of the list as providing the greatest nutrient density in the fewest calories, and cola and white bread are, of course, at the bottom. According to Dr. Fuhrman, “The nutrient density in your body’s tissues is proportional to the nutrient density of your diet.”
The plan is simple: 90% of the daily diet comes from nutrient-rich plant foods loaded with health-promoting phytochemicals. These plant foods include green and other non-starchy vegetables; fresh fruits; beans and legumes; raw nuts, seeds, and avocados; starchy vegetables; and whole grains. No calorie counting, no hunger between meals.
But, how can you get your elderly loved one to prioritize these life- and health-giving foods over Twinkies for those sugar cravings?
Now is the time to get creative! Use that evolutionary preference for soft, sweet foods to your advantage. Simple homemade soups and smoothies offer a nutritional wallop, and you don’t even need added sugars to stimulate sluggish appetites. You can rely on fruits and even sweet veggies like carrots in your smoothies.
Consider, for example, green smoothies. Use all light-colored sweet fruits, like pineapple, grapes, apple, peach, and banana. Add a little raw carrot. Add as many mixed greens as you can fit into a high-powered blender, along with some avocado for added richness and creaminess, 8-10 ice cubes, and a bit of light-colored juice or coconut milk or oil to get things underway. You can even add chia, flax, or hemp seeds. Whiz in the blender until smooth, and voila! A nutritious and delicious meal. Maybe you can even get your elderly charge to share a little with you.
Another great way to prepare a simple and simply wonderful meal is with blended soups. Add a little coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil to a pot, chunks of onion and/or peeled fresh ginger root, saute briefly, and add a variety of single veggies to the pot. Veggies that work well for this are tomatoes, zucchini, beets, or sweet potatoes (wash and chunk all, and peel the beets and sweet potatoes). Add water to the pot, depending on the water content of the veggies: none for tomatoes, a little for zucchini, more for beets or sweet potatoes. Puree in the blender and return to the pot for seasoning. Salt and pepper are fine, or you can get fancier with chopped fresh basil or other herbs of your choice. Leftovers of any of the soups boiled down and thickened work as tasty and nutritious sauces for other parts of a meal.
A varied plant-based diet provides plenty of protein, B-vitamins, calcium, loads of fiber, and a healthy dose of antioxidants like CoQ10. Heart-healthy fatty acids and vitamin D are most easily available in animal foods, especially dairy products, although plant-based alternatives like soy milk also provide them. Full-fat yogurt, in particular, aids digestion, supplying important probiotics along with fatty acids.
It’s always a good idea to provide a daily vitamin and mineral capsule as insurance. If swallowing is an issue, just blend it along with those beautiful greens in a smoothie.
And remember: while “middle age is when you choose your cereal for the fiber, not the toy,” you can make that fiber fun to eat—soft and sweet!
At David York Agency, we offer a number of home healthcare services to help ensure your elderly loved one gets the care and nutrition they need. Whether you just need someone to come over a few days a week to help prepare healthy meals or you need a full-time home healthcare aide, we can help.
For more information about our qualified, compassionate caregivers, contact us at 718.376.7755. A free phone consultation can help you decide what services might be best to provide you and your loved one with the assistance you need.