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Do you eat like I do?

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I know, I know. Cereal or crackers and cheese for supper is not the smartest choice I make. I go to the gym and then come home and don’t pay attention to good food choices. I need help!

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When my husband travels and I’m home alone, I just really lose interest. I can eat the same thing over and over, as long as it means I don’t have to stop at the grocery store!

The older I get, the more I notice how these bad choices affect my energy level and even my attitude toward life. As I think of my parents who have the same routine most days, really don’t have to leave the house for anything (not to mention how difficult the weather makes that right now!), I realize how difficult it must be for them to make the effort to eat properly.

I know I not only need to get a grip on myself, but maybe I need to micromanage my parents a bit. (They just love it when I do that!)

Proper nutrition is more and more important as we age. A number of changes may occur that can make eating less enjoyable, reduce appetites and even make the act of cooking a meal feel more like a task than a pleasure.

These changes may include:

Lifestyle changes: If a spouse has passed away, being newly single you may not know how to cook or may not feel like cooking for one. Or a limited budget might make it hard to afford a balanced, healthy diet.

Lower levels of activity: Seniors often cut back on activities for physical and medical reasons. If they continue to eat the same amount of calories, weight gain can result. Increased weight can also come with the normal slowdown in our metabolism because the body is burning fewer calories.

Diminished sense of taste and smell: As senses diminish, seniors may be inclined to season and salt their food more heavily than before — even though they need less salt. It may also mean they can’t distinguish food that’s gone bad and could potentially eat something that makes them sick.

A loss of taste and smell can also make eating less enjoyable so they might not eat at all, which can result in weight loss.

Changes in appetite: These changes can result from loneliness, a medical condition or prescription medications.

Changes in digestive system: As seniors age, it can become more difficult for them to process certain vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12, B6 and folic acid, which are necessary to maintain mental alertness, a keen memory and good circulation.

These challenges seem overwhelming, but there are some basic ways you can help overcome these situations. Start by following these important guidelines for seniors:

• Reduce sodium (salt) to help prevent water retention and high blood pressure.

• Monitor fat intake to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

• Consume more calcium and vitamin D for bone health.

• Eat more fiber-rich foods to prevent constipation.

• Cut back on sugar and on dry foods.

• Make sure to get the recommended amount of important vitamins and minerals.

• Increase water intake.

• Participate in regular physical activity — about 30 minutes three times a week.

The grocery store is certainly not my idea of fun, but to help a senior to eat better, helping them organize their trips to the grocery store may be very productive and much appreciated. Certainly some companionship on that trip may make it fun for all parties involved.

My memory of getting groceries when I was growing up was how hard we all worked at it (Mom was adamant about going once a month and stocking up). What a reward when we were able to all enjoy lunch OUT on the way home! (Should I admit that was usually at the Dairy Queen?)

The companionship of all of us going made the job much more fun.

Here are 10 tips to help you get started with that organization:

1. Make a list. Sit down with them and make a list of what they want to eat for the week. Pre-planning can cut down on time and money.

2. Don’t shop hungry. Shoppers are always tempted to buy more when they’re hungry, so eat before hitting the aisles.

3. Clip coupons. Review store ads, clip coupons and organize them at home.

4. Invite a friend. The resulting companionship makes the task of grocery shopping easier and more fun.

5. Discount programs. Sign up for a grocer’s bonus or discount card. Seniors can reap additional savings and take advantage of grocery store specials.

6. Try store brands. Store brands that may be cheaper and just as good are often placed higher or lower on the grocery shelves. So remind your loved ones to look up and down for better bargains.

7. Think variety. Encourage new foods or ethnic alternatives.

8. Shop the perimeter. Focus on the perimeter of the store. That’s where most of the fresh, healthier foods are located.

9. Watch for sales. Stock up on sale items by choosing only as much as your senior can use in a timely manner.

10. Budget wisely. Remind them to use their food budget wisely. For the price of a large bag of chips and a box of cookies, they can buy a good supply of apples, bananas, carrots, potatoes, peppers and other healthier foods.

Don’t forget to include on that list the staples for your senior, as listed in the accompanying sidebar. These are perfect to put on any family’s shopping list!

Next month, we’ll talk about recognizing signs of poor nutrition in seniors and some additional ideas on how to help improve that. Much of this information has come from a 10-page workbook entitled “Nutrition for Seniors.” If you’d like your own copy, please contact our office at 218-824-0077 and we will mail one to you.

My dad taught me the great habit of having a bowl of ice cream before bed, which he still does many nights. If I’m going to be good at my micromanaging, I should be a good role model. It’s very tempting, but maybe I’ll make it a bowl of yogurt topped with blueberries.

Check out the chart — blueberries may improve memory and coordination. I could sure use improvement in both of those!

Deb Cranny is the executive director at Home Instead Senior Care in Brainerd.

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