Healthy eating habits are important for everyone, no matter what your age. But for seniors a healthy diet comes with many benefits to their health, overall well-being and longevity. Seniors who eat a well-balanced diet rich with vitamins and minerals are better able to ward off common colds and viruses, prevent chronic disease and have more energy—which can lead to increased physical activity, amplifying the benefits of a healthy diet alone.
Increased mental clarity
In 2013 Today Health & Wellness reported on a study conducted by researchers at the University of L’Aquila in Italy. Researchers evaluated 90 seniors who were experiencing mild cognitive impairment and had them drink a cocoa beverage daily for a period of eight weeks. The beverage contained “either low, medium or high amounts of flavanols, the antioxidants that naturally occur in cocoa.”
The study found that seniors who “consumed drinks with medium and high amounts of flavanols scored higher on tests that required attention and other mental skills compared to the subjects who drank the lowest levels of flavanols.” This, of course, doesn’t mean consuming vast amounts of sweets is a good idea, rather that a square or two of rich, dark chocolate (high in flavanols) should do the trick. Other foods linked to increased mental clarity and improved cognition in various studies include cauliflower, chili peppers, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, rice bran, beet juice, breakfast cereal and yogurt.
Resistance to illness and disease
A diet rich in vitamins and minerals helps to keep seniors’ body systems in check, including contributing to strong immune system functioning. A healthy immune system, in turn, helps seniors to ward off illnesses such as the common cold, influenza, pneumonia and other conditions that can lead to serious health consequences in the elderly.
Preventing chronic disease
In addition to warding off the common cold, flu viruses and seasonal sniffles, a healthy diet can help seniors ward off more serious, chronic health conditions. For instance, consuming a reduced sodium diet can help prevent water retention and high blood pressure, the proper fat intake can help control cholesterol levels. Additional calcium and Vitamin D is helpful for maintaining bone density and avoiding osteoporosis.
Avoid malnutrition and maintain energy levels
The body needs food—and, more importantly, proper nutrition—to maintain energy levels. In some cases, seniors who are feeling lethargic and don’t have the energy to get out and about for some daily exercise may be suffering from malnutrition, which contributes to feeling tired and groggy. It’s a vicious cycle. Getting the right amounts of vitamins and other nutrients in your diet can lead to a dramatic change in your energy levels.
There are many factors that can contribute to decreased nutritional intake, such as a decline in the senses of taste and smell, medication side effects including loss of appetite, dental problems. Even depression or forgetfulness,can lead to a loss of desire to cook or forgetting about regular meal times. If any of these factors are contributing to a decline in your aging loved one’s dietary habits, look into programs such as Meals on Wheels, which deliver nutritious, balanced meals right to seniors’ doorsteps, or talk with your loved one and her doctor about strategies your family can implement to improve her nutritional status.
Your aging loved ones’ health is important to you. Ensuring that your elderly loved ones are eating a well-balanced diet with the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals can help your senior loved one remain happy, active, and healthy for many years to come—and he may be surprised by how much better he feels with a few simple dietary changes.