The older people get, the more likely it is that they will develop medical problems that require a special, or therapeutic, diet. People who develop diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, for instance, may have special considerations in meal planning. Most conditions, however, benefit from a diet that is high in fiber from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and low in animal products. Well-planned vegetarian diets can help to control blood sugar levels.
By limiting fat, salt, and sugar, vegetarian diets can also be useful in controlling high blood pressure, heart disease, and other conditions. However, since individuals vary in their needs, those who must follow a special diet should consult a registered dietitian for more detailed recommendations and help with meal planning. Many people also wonder if diet can help to treat conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis.
At present, no conclusive evidence exists to recommend one kind of diet over another for the treatment of arthritis. However, a lowfat vegetarian diet may be helpful in promoting normal weight, which, in turn, may help reduce or prevent some symptoms of arthritis. The risk for osteoporosis is influenced by many factors, including diet. Diets that are excessively high in protein and sodium can accelerate the loss of calcium from bones. Vegetarian diets tend to be moderate in protein content and, when care is taken to avoid processed foods, they can be lower in sodium as well.
Including plenty of greens and other vegetables in the diet will help to ensure an adequate intake of calcium. One of the most common surgical procedures for older people is cataract surgery, and there is a considerable amount of research being conducted presently on the relationships between diet and the incidence of cataracts and macular degeneration. Depression because of changes in living conditions, loss of companions, certain medications, and complications in preparing meals can all result in a loss of interest in food.
Sometimes eating smaller, more frequent "mini-meals" can help. It may also be a good idea to seek out meals in a social context.
For instance, local vegetarian societies may have regular organized potluck dinners or restaurant outings that provide an opportunity to make new friends and enjoy a meal in the company of others. Some common nutrition-related problems that older people encounter, and suggestions for dealing with them, are summarized in the following chart:. Belching or bloating Avoid alcohol, carbonated beverages, and high fat foods such as some sweets, meats, oils and margarine, and high-fat dairy foods.
Eat slowly and chew foods well. Avoid lying down after meals. If you do, keep head and back elevated at a degree angle. See dentist if problem is poorly fitting dentures. Cut food into small pieces and chew food at a comfortable, unhurried pace.
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Eat liberal amounts of whole grains as well as vegetables and fruits. Try dried fruits such as prunes or figs, or drink prune juice. Limit greasy or fatty foods such as high-fat dairy foods, oils and margarine, fried foods, high fat sweets and meats. Some older people may find meal planning is more burdensome if shopping or preparing meals is difficult.
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Arthritis, for instance, or impaired hearing or poor eyesight may make it hard to drive to the grocery store, to read food labels or package instructions, or to open bottles and handle cooking utensils. It may also be difficult to maintain the motivation to cook for only one or two people. For all these reasons, it may be necessary for meals to be simple, quick, and convenient to prepare.
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Ready-to-eat, whole grain breakfast cereals are a nutritious meal or snack anytime, as are quick-cooking hot cereals like oatmeal, which can be cooked in a microwave oven. Fresh fruit is also convenient, but canned fruits, packed in their own juice or water, will keep for months in the cupboard and can also make a simple snack.
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Whole grain breads, bagels, and lowfat muffins can be kept in the freezer and individual servings taken out as needed. Other good freezer and cupboard staples include bags of mixed, plain frozen vegetables, whole grain crackers, peanut butter, canned beans such as pinto beans or black-eyed peas, and jars of vegetable salads such as three-bean or beet salad. It also makes sense, for those who are able to do more extensive cooking, to fix enough of a recipe so that some can be frozen in small batches to be reheated at a later date.
For example, bean chili, vegetable lasagna, some casseroles, whole grain cookies, lowfat muffins, or pancakes all freeze well and can be stored in small containers that can be reheated in a conventional or microwave oven. Bean chili; vegetable lasagna; to be frozen in small vegetable and bean soups; whole batches and reheated grain-and-vegetable casseroles; at a later date whole grain cookies, lowfat muffins, or pancakes.
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Split bags of fresh vegetables, such as carrots, celery, and onions, or heads of lettuce, with a friend to reduce the amount of spoiled food that has to be thrown away. For many elderly people, a limited income or limited access to transportation to a grocery store can complicate meal planning.
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So, good planning can not only be efficient, it can also be economically helpful as well. Foods prepared from scratch at home are usually less expensive than packaged mixes and frozen entrees, for example, and the cook has more control over what ingredients are used, also. For example, salt or fat in a recipe can be reduced when food is prepared at home, or whole wheat flour can be substituted for refined white flour. Wise food choices can help save money.
Buying in bulk, whether an item is on special or not, can be cheaper than buying small containers of food, although storage space must be available. If a person has access to food outlet stores, substantial savings can be had on things such as baked goods or breads. If freezer space is available, trips to an outlet can be less frequent.
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Many stores offer double or triple the face value of the coupon. On the other hand, store brands of certain items can be much cheaper than name brands, even after coupon discounts, and often with little detectable difference in quality. Paper goods, canned goods, jams and jellies, and breakfast cereals are just a few examples of items which may have store brand or generic options. There are certain food items that tend to be relatively costly and also should be limited for health reasons for most people. Sweets, especially prepared desserts such as cakes, pies, and cookies, and junk foods such as chips and other fried snacks, snack cakes, and some candies can be fairly expensive.
High-fat dairy foods such as cheese and ice cream are relatively expensive, and for nonvegetarians, meat is typically the costliest item on the grocery list. Desserts can be prepared at home, with alterations in the recipe to make them more nutritious, and money can be saved.
Junk food snacks can be replaced with less expensive snacks such as air-popped plain popcorn, mixtures of dry cereals, bagels, whole grain muffins, or seasonal fresh fruit. If cheese is eaten, buy small quantities and use it sparingly. Add a sprinkling of grated cheese to salads or on top of a casserole or sandwich, rather than using it as a more prominent ingredient. Meatless meals, incorporating mixtures of vegetables, whole grains, and legumes such as canned or rehydrated beans and lentils, are economical and healthful, not to mention delicious.
Food assistance programs, such as food stamps, can increase buying power for people who are eligible. Food delivery programs, such as Meals-on-Wheels, are also available for people who are housebound or have difficulty getting around or preparing meals. Congregate meal programs are available in some areas, where older people can meet in a central location to enjoy a meal in the company of others, and transportation is frequently provided to the meal site.
It is usually necessary to ask if vegetarian meal options can be made available, and the ability of food service personnel to accommodate the vegetarian's needs may vary from site to site or city to city. If there is difficulty in obtaining vegetarian meal options, contact the local vegetarian society. They may be able to refer the problem to a local dietitian-member for assistance. Find out if others are interested in lowfat vegetarian meal options. Quantity recipes are available from the Vegetarian Resource Group and other organizations, and these can be provided to food service directors or dietitians who may be able to incorporate them into menus.
Meal delivery programs may be organized by community nonprofit organizations or health and social service agencies such as hospitals, churches, nursing homes, and visiting nurses associations. To determine who is eligible, call these organizations directly. Otherwise, people can be referred by another family member, a physician, a visiting nurse, or a social worker.