As early autumn turns to deeper fall, helping seniors maintain healthy balanced diets can bolster immunity, support cognitive function and fuel happier moods. And it doesn’t have to be hard. Consider these tips to help loved ones nurture good nutrition as social distancing measures linger on, and winter settles in:
- Keep balance in MIND. A hybrid of the DASH and Mediterranean eating styles, the MIND diet draws heavily on foods that impact brain health – and that’s good for whole health. What’s the bottom line? Factoring in six servings of leafy greens (think kale, spinach, lettuce) and at least one other vegetable serving a day is a great start. Opt for snacks that include a handful of nuts (known for their brain-protective qualities) or even berries (associated with slower rates of cognitive decline). Don’t ignore meats, rich in brain-boosting B vitamins; do keep them fat-free. Remember to incorporate fish, which has been shown to drive better memory scores for adults over 65, and linked to lower rates of both dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment.
- Find ways to feed mood. Sound food choices play a big role in mood enhancement. They also tie to underlying health issues. What’s the bottom line? Keep your eyes peeled for options that someone actually enjoys. Bananas contain vitamin B6, which is known to even out moods. Dark leafy greens high in folic acid have been shown to alleviate depression and fatigue. Same goes for the high amounts of polyphenols found in dark chocolate. Work backwards from what a senior likes to eat, narrowing down their favourites, and then do a little digging to see which of those foods might have the mood boosting effect you’re after.
- Check sugar at the door. Research shows a real link between diets that are high in refined sugar and impaired brain function. In fact, some studies find traditional Mediterranean and Japanese diets entail a 25% to 35% lower risk of depression, compared to a typical Western diet (which tends to include more processed foods and refined sugars). What’s the bottom line? Moving someone towards cleaner eating options for a couple of weeks could very well show a difference in how they feel overall. Abandoning as many processed foods and sugars as possible in favour of whole food options and snacks is worth a shot.
- Don’t boil the ocean. Whatever it takes to incorporate healthier options is a step in the right direction. You don’t have to hit every target with every meal. What’s the bottom line? If you’re not the not the primary food preparer, don’t be shy to ask questions about what’s making its way onto your loved one’s plate. If you’re supporting a loved one from afar, ensuring they have the right ingredients on hand is a big deal. Order groceries online or set up weekly drop-offs from a local farm. And if you’re chiefly responsible for cooking for a senior, try to make it easier on yourself by opting for simple slow cooker recipes that work hard for you while you’re busy working hard, prepared meals from a local chef, or frozen individual portions of your own meals so you’re not cooking as often. Whatever you do helps. Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.
Thinking holistically about seniors’ health means thinking holistically about their diet, too. Understanding the upside of different foods and incorporating them regularly can make a big difference in someone’s wellbeing.