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Heart Healthy Tips for Senior Nutritional Needs

By Mary Otte

Studies have shown that we tend to cut back on eating as we age, though clearly every individual has a different appetites, body types, metabolisms, nutritional needs and health challenges. The best advice for maintaining cardiovascular health is to get plenty of exercise and eat a balanced diet made up of small portions lacking in salt, processed sugars and saturated fats, yet high in the right vitamins, proteins, healthy fats like the ones found in fish and lots of fresh veggies and fruits. In fact, when it comes to eating the best we can, farm fresh produce, meats, whole grains and other non-processed foods are optimal. Eating organically also keeps us from ingesting unnecessary and potentially harmful things like fertilizers, animal hormones or antibiotics and other types of chemicals.

Cutting back on calories isn’t for everyone, though, and not just because we love our sweets. If you or an elderly person in your life has trouble swallowing or takes medications that decrease appetite, getting the proper amount of healthy calories can be a challenge. Being able to swallow food without the fear of choking or having food ‘stuck in your throat’ is very important, as having a fear of eating can develop into an eating disorder and compound already challenging medical issues. Food thickeners and purees help eating to become a pleasurable experience again for those living with a swallowing disorder.

Loss of appetite can contribute to frailty and lack of energy. Liquid protein and vitamin supplements make getting necessary nutrients an easier feat to accomplish. Pro-Stat 101 High Protein & Calorie Liquid has 15 grams of protein and 101 beneficial calories per ounce, plus it’s hydrolyzed for rapid absorption. It requires no mixing and can be taken orally or administered via a feeding tube, plus, aside from promoting healthy weight, it also aids in tissue healing and comes in three different flavors. There are other choices for ensuring proper enteral (tube feeding) nutrition as well, we feature a variety of choices here on our website.

Here’s some great news: dark chocolate has been shown to have benefits like boosting your mood and thus reducing stress (less stress = healthier heart), however, it was also reported by researchers in the open access journal BMC Medicine that the flavanol compounds in chocolate, “promotes vasodilation and consequently may lower blood pressure.” This doesn’t mean you should polish off that box of Valentine’s Day chocolates in a single sitting, though it is a special occasion and hence possible exception… Just keep in mind that chocolate is also high in fat and sugars, so around an ounce of the dark stuff is a heart healthy dose.

Another nice discovery revolves around the benefits of red wine. Two glasses at the end of the day (moderation is key) have been shown to improve heart health through its antioxidant polyphenol, which may assist in protecting the lining of blood vessels found in your heart. Another ingredient, resveratrol might help to prevent blood clots. Cheers to your heart!

Drinking soda, however, is a big no-no. It’s very high in sugar and empty calories and has been linked to diabetes and cardiovascular problems in a big way. Calories without nutritional value can lead to weight gain. Our bodies simply think of them as “extra,” literally sending them “straight to our hips.”

The long and short of it is to make sure the right calories in the right amounts are being consumed, to cut down on sodium, fat and sugar and to exercise at the level that you or the person you care for is able. Unfortunately, this means cutting down or out many of our favorite foods: cheeseburgers, french fries, chips, high fat/salty breakfasts like bacon, eggs, fried potatoes and butter toast or sugary ones like pancakes with syrup or compote and whipped cream—not to mention dessert. But with the dark chocolate backup, seasonal fruits, a glass or two of cabernet sauvignon and nutritious desserts like Boost pudding—a great option, as it has seven grams of protein per serving and comes in the yummy, classic flavors of vanilla, chocolate and butterscotch—we can keep our hearts and bodies in good shape, while still enjoying the finer things in life.