Eat More Healthfully this Holiday Season

Grandfather and grandson doing selfie with the Thanksgiving turkey

The holiday season is upon us and for many of us, this means, in addition to getting together with family and friends, we’ll also be overindulging on turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and pumpkin pie. And while one day of feasting most likely won’t cause any lasting harm, it’s a good time to take a look at some of the myths that surround seniors and nutrition.

Myth 1: If you didn’t eat healthfully when you were young, it’s too late to start now.

It’s never too late to start eating well. According to the National Institutes of Health, even if you already have one or more chronic diseases, eating well may help you better manage conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Mediterranean-style diets – which place an emphasis on eating lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and eating moderate amounts of fish (particularly those rich in brain healthy Omega-3s, such as wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, and herring) while using healthy fats and oils like those found in nuts, olives and avocados – have been particularly successful in helping people age well. The Harvard Health Letter suggests following such a diet can reduce your risk for heart attack, stroke and premature death.

Myth 2:  If you’re not underweight, you’re not undernourished.

Many seniors rely on processed foods that are easy to fix, but that have little nutritional value and are high in sugar, sodium and calories. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34 percent of seniors are classified as obese and that number reaches 40 percent when you look at those between the ages of 65-74. Numerous studies have shown that obesity increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, obese people tend to have less energy and therefore are less physical active than their normal-weight counterparts, which exacerbates the problem.

Myth 3: “Low fat” is synonymous with “healthy.”

Many low-fat or nonfat foods are loaded with sugar (and therefore, calories), which can be more harmful to health than fats. Second, not all fats are created equal. Many foods high in fat – avocados, olive oil, wild salmon, walnuts – have numerous benefits and can actually help improve health. There are fats you should always avoid – trans fats being the main culprit, which you can identify on food labels when you see the word “hydrogenated.” In fact, the FDA recently ordered all food manufactures stop using trans fats within three years because of the potential danger they present. As with all things, it is best to eat all fats in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

Myth 4: Foods that are “all natural” are necessarily good for you.

The label “all natural” is popping up everywhere these days. There are numerous problems with foods labeled “all natural.” First, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the term, meaning virtually anyone can use it without substantiating the claim. Second, many “natural” ingredients are harmful to human health – processed sugar, nicotine, and mercury, just to name a few. Finally, many foods labeled “all natural” use genetically modified ingredients. The bottom line is that virtually anything can be called “natural,” making the term meaningless when it’s found on a food label.

Myth 5:  Seniors need fewer nutrients than the rest of the population.

In many respects, a healthful diet for seniors consists of the same foods you often hear of when people discuss nutrition – a variety of fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains. There are, however, some specific things that seniors may need more of than their younger counterparts, including calcium and Vitamin D, which work together to strengthen bones. Bones lose density as we age, making these nutrients particularly important for seniors. Additionally, seniors are a greater risk of dehydration, making fluid intake an essential element of overall nutrition.

This article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Speak to your doctor and/or a registered dietitian if you have questions about your nutritional needs.

Categories: Senior Health