Caring for an aging parent is a profound responsibility, one that often comes with difficult decisions. As our loved ones…
Healthy Eating and Proper Hydration are Keys to a Healthy Lifestyle
The first step to eating well is to learn what your body needs right now. Knowing what to eat, and how much or little, is key to achieving and maintaining nutritional health. It may also be wise to consult your health care professional, who can evaluate your specific nutritional needs based on your medical history and current health profile, assess whether you need to follow a special diet, and recommend any necessary supplements.
The hydration status of a person refers to their body water balance. Dehydration occurs when people don’t have enough fluid in their bodies. Many older people have problems with dehydration which is a serious problem and can result in death if it is not taken care of, but dehydration is very easy to prevent.
The ability to feel thirst lessens with age so seniors may not realize when they need to drink more. Also, many seniors may find they have to use the bathroom more often so they are losing more fluid. In the aging process, people’s bodies start losing muscle and gaining fat. Remember muscle holds water but fat does not, so as a person ages their body water decreases. Medications that increase urination or help constipation can also cause dehydration.
Did You Know???
Dehydration is ranked in the top ten most frequent reasons for Medicare hospitalizations and half of all patients hospitalized with dehydration as the primary diagnosis, die within one year.
Whole, natural, fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, healthy sources of protein (poultry, fish, eggs, tofu) and dairy products that contain calcium constitute efficient eating. Highly processed and refined foods usually contain more calories and fewer nutrients, which is why people often still feel hungry after consuming them. Here are some other healthy eating tips:
- Reduce sodium (salt) to help prevent water retention and high blood pressure,
- Monitor fat intake in order 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 you get the recommended amount of important vitamins and minerals,
Changing old habits and improving diet
It is important to recognize your bad habits and tackle obstacles to good nutrition. If you are finding it hard to change your old ways, here are a few things to remember:
- Focus on good carbs. Opt for whole grain nutrition (brown rice, whole wheat bread, rolled oats, barley, millet), not refined “white” products, such as white bread, white rice, or products made with white flour.
- Raw equals roughage! Aim to eat at least one daily serving of your fruits and vegetables raw. This not only preserves their nutritional value, it’s an easy way to eliminate constipation. Raw fruits and veggies are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes to aid digestion. Plus, there’s no preparation involved. If you have difficulty biting or chewing, cut your apple or carrot into bite-sized pieces. Or try a green salad with grated zucchini.
- Steaming is the best way to cook vegetables; it preserves nutrients. Light sautéing is next. Boiling leeches nutrients—but you can use the leftover cooking water as soup stock!
- Go lean on protein. Fish, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, nuts and tofu all count as protein, so it’s easy to vary your healthy protein choices. Try skinless turkey or chicken, or fish, baked, broiled, grilled, steamed or poached, and you’ll savor the flavor while adding healthy, low-fat, low cholesterol nutrition to your diet. Go easy on red meats, which contain saturated fat, and on salty meats such as bacon or ham.
- Bone up on calcium. All dairy products are not created equal. Milk, cheese and yogurt retain their calcium content; cream cheese, cream and butter do not. As part of a healthy senior diet, choose fat-free or low fat dairy products. If you’re lactose-intolerant, consider lactose-free and lower-lactose products, such as hard cheeses and yogurt. Or, a calcium supplement might be a better way for you to meet your calcium requirement.
- Choose first-rate fats. Get your “good” fats from oils such as olive oil and sunflower oil, avocados and avocado oil, nuts and seeds.
- Keep it moist. In addition to drinking enough water each day, aim to consume foods with a high water content. Staying properly hydrated flushes toxins from your body, relieves constipation, helps keep your joints flexible and your mind clear. High water content foods include melons, grapes, cucumbers, onions, apples, cabbage, and, of course, soup!
- Start slow – Rome wasn’t built in one day, and neither is a healthy diet. If you find your diet is full of highly processed foods, sweets, sodium and caffeine, don’t try to change everything overnight. Pick one thing to work on at a time and give yourself a pat on the back when you achieve your goal. Then, move on to your next goal.
All of your hard work will pay off! Maintaining a healthy diet can yield numerous benefits, including increased energy, good mental health and mental abilities, resistance to disease, faster recovery from illness, accident, or surgery, better medication effectiveness, and improved management of chronic health problems. The overall result of an emphasis on good nutrition will be an improvement in your quality of life, mobility, and independence.
Tips for Staying Hydrated
Water doesn’t have to be the only source of fluids! What you eat also provides a significant portion of your fluid needs. On average, food provides about 20 percent of total water intake, while the remaining 80 percent comes from water and beverages of all kinds.
For example, many fruits and vegetables — such as watermelon and cucumbers — are nearly 100 percent water by weight. Beverages such as milk and juice are also composed mostly of water. Here are some helpful tips to remain hydrated:
- Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink; by this time you are already dehydrated.
- Carry a water bottle with you and drink from it regularly.
- Drink at least eight cups of water every day.
- Keep a full water bottle in the refrigerator door and take a drink every time you open the refrigerator.
- Drink extra in extreme heat to replace the water lost from sweating.
- Start and end the day with a cup of water.
- Do not replace water with alcohol or caffeinated drinks.
- Know the symptoms of dehydration
Symptoms of Dehydration
Dehydration can be caused by diarrhea, vomiting, overheating, diabetes, diuretic medications, high fever, or excessive sweating. If you have any of these, be aware and make sure you are drinking plenty of fluids. Here are some warning signs (symptoms) that can be overcome by simply drinking water:
- Dry mouth
- Dark yellow urine
Life threatening symptoms that will require a person to go to the ER or contact their physician immediately include:
- Feeling of blacking out when sitting up or standing
- Muscle weakness or cramps
- Sunken eyes
- Low blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
As with most illnesses, prevention is the key. Making sure you stay hydrated now is much easier than being treated for dehydration later.
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