March is National Nutrition Month, a campaign that encourages Americans to make informed food choices and develop healthier habits for eating and physical activity. For seniors, this means learning about how personal food choices might be affecting their body. Older Americans are at a higher risk of their health being compromised from things like too much salt, fat or sugar in their diet – or from having too little calcium and other minerals and vitamins.
What is Informed Nutrition?
Seniors can start assessing their nutritional needs by taking the simple step of “knowing their numbers” for cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index. Taking stock of what foods can help or hurt these numbers lets seniors make healthier choices that are based on “informed nutrition.”
“I learned to keep track of my blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and BMI. I talked to my doctor about starting healthier eating habits that addressed the numbers I was concerned with. I also accounted for two things: health conditions that already affect me and ones that I’m at risk for,” said Amada Senior Care client Rose McDenton.
“By making a few small changes to my diet,” continued Rose, “I was able to bring my numbers into a healthier range, to manage the health challenges I already struggle with, and to reduce my chances of developing other chronic diseases.
These days, I’m so much more optimistic about my future and my health. It feels great to know I’ll be around to enjoy my family and friends for a long time.”
Informed Nutrition by the Numbers
Systolic Blood Pressure: This is the top number of your blood pressure reading. It refers to the amount of pressure in your arteries during the contraction of your heart muscle.
Diastolic Blood Pressure: This is the bottom number of your blood pressure reading. It refers to the amount of pressure in your arteries when the heart rests between beats.
LDL: Stands for “low-density lipoprotein.” Considered “bad” cholesterol, LDL contributes to fatty buildup in the arteries (atherosclerosis). LDL increases the risk for heart attack, stroke or peripheral artery disease.
HDL: Stands for “high-density lipoprotein.” Called “good” cholesterol, HDL carries LDL away from the arteries and to the liver where it can be broken down and passed from the body. Healthy HDL levels may protect against heart attack and stroke.
Blood Sugar (Glucose) Level: This is the amount of sugar (glucose) found in your blood. Glucose comes from the food you eat and provides energy to all the cells in your body. However, a blood sugar level that is too high can lead to diabetes.
BMI: Stands for “body mass index.” This is the numerical value of your weight in relation to your height. The higher your BMI, the higher your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, certain cancers, and other health conditions.
Informed Nutrition by Health Conditions
CHF: Stands for “Congestive Heart Failure.” This is a chronic progressive condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to the body’s tissues to keep up with its demands. The symptoms and progression of CHF can be managed or improved with dietary changes (for example, reducing sodium intake).
Diabetes: This is a disease that occurs when your body struggles to manage glucose (blood sugar) levels in the bloodstream. The body either cannot produce insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it produces. The resulting high blood sugar levels can damage organs, blood vessels and nerves. A diet high in fiber (replacing simple carbohydrates with complex carbs) and low in saturated and trans fats can significantly improve the symptoms of diabetes.
Hypertension: This is another name for high blood pressure (HBP). Hypertension puts an extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. Uncontrolled hypertension leads to heart disease and stroke. You can have HBP for years without any symptoms, but damage to your heart and blood vessels continues. A diet low in sodium but high in potassium, magnesium and fiber can help control or improve hypertension.
Stroke: A stroke is a sudden interruption in the blood supply of the brain. It occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or ruptures. Brain cells begin to die in minutes. Quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake and reducing the consumption of red meat and bad fats/cholesterol have been shown to reduce risk factors for stroke.
Involve Your Health Provider
Health professionals recommend that seniors consult first with their doctor before starting a new diet or fitness program. Taking this step will help to ensure that you don’t have a health condition that could make a diet or activity dangerous for you.
If you’d like to learn more about the importance of having trained, knowledgeable caregivers to support a healthier lifestyle, please contact one of our friendly and resourceful Amada Senior Care advisors. Click here to find an Amada Senior Care location near you.
“What Does Informed Nutrition Mean for Seniors?” was written by Jeremy Brooker and Michelle Flores, Amada Blog contributors. Quote and photo used with permission. The contents of this blog are not meant to be used as medical advice. Before implementing any dietary changes or beginning a nutritional plan, consult with your doctor.