If you’re like me, you’ve awakened from a long winter’s nap only to discover your pants are a little more snug and the trip up the stairs requires a quick timeout before moving on. Realizing our New Year’s commitment to healthy living is officially part of the distant past, it’s time to re-examine our current state of health. And with March being National Nutrition Month, now is the perfect time to reacquaint ourselves with the benefits of healthy eating. If there is one place where healthy eating is a top priority every day, it’s a nursing home. It’s true! Unlike nursing homes of the past, many of today’s highest-ranked assisted living facilities and nursing homes take great measures to ensure their dining room cuisine is as delicious as it is nutritious. In fact, it’s a selling point in many of their promotional campaigns.
The task of preparing nutritious meals that won’t interfere with the residents’ care is a daily challenge. But their hardship can be our gain as we explore four helpful dietary tips from a leading nursing home’s kitchen.
- Lower your sodium intake.
Admit it. Most of us have a love affair with salt. But while we savor the zesty flavor it brings to our favorite plate of nachos, our body struggles with the high blood pressure that may appear after time. “The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily,” said Ella Quittner. “That is more than twice the American Heart Association’s recommended limit of 1,500 milligrams a day.” Since the elderly are at risk of both high and low sodium in the blood, the dietary staff has to find a perfect balance in dietary sodium intake. This recipe for Corn Chowder with Sausage shows how easy it is to substitute low-sodium broths and chicken sausage for robust flavor without the salt.
- Watch your cholesterol.
Although largely influenced by genetics, an abundance of cholesterol can lead to some serious (even fatal) heart conditions. By avoiding fried and fatty foods and minimizing foods from animal sources, nutritionists can keep residents’ cholesterol in check. And so can we. To celebrate National Nutrition Month, why not make friends with oatmeal for breakfast? “Oatmeal contains soluble fiber, which reduces your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the ‘bad’ cholesterol,” the Mayo Clinic staff said. “Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream.” They recommend five to 10 grams or more of soluble fiber a day to decrease your total and LDL cholesterol. And if you want your new relationship with oatmeal to be delicious, try this recipe for Banana Split Oatmeal.
- Eliminate processed foods from your diet.
It’s hard to deny the convenience that processed foods bring to our busy schedules; Many are designed just to grab and go. But most snacks are loaded with empty calories and even fewer nutritional benefits. This month, just say no. Instead, let’s learn to love fresh salads adorned with vegetables, nuts, raisins and other fresh goodies that are loaded with flavor. “One of the easiest changes you can make to your diet that creates the greatest impact is removing processed foods from your diet,” said Emily Woll, MS from 39forlife.com. Nursing home dining rooms love the versatility salads provide for their residents. We love them because they taste good. Here is a great recipe for Chinese Chicken Cabbage Salad.
- Reduce your sugar intake.
The Centers for Disease Control reported that the average American consumes between 13 to 20 teaspoons of added sugar every day. But the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee says that sugar should only make up ten percent of our daily calorie intake. It’s not that sugar is bad for us, it’s the amount of sugar we eat in processed foods and snacks that are causing problems. Studies show that an excess of sugar can encourage cognitive impairment in seniors.
Most of our favorite fruits contain sugar, and that’s okay. So if you are missing the convenience of grab-n-go foods, try a smoothie on your way out the door tomorrow. “This Good Green Tea Smoothie contains loads of folate, which prevents a buildup of homocysteine in the blood,” Sarah Stevenson said. High levels of homocysteine are linked to heart disease as well as the development of certain types of dementia.
Remember the old saying, “You are what you eat?” Well, it’s still true. Whether you are 27 or 72, the road to a richer, fuller quality of life begins with what’s on the menu. So, eat up, and eat healthy. Because good nutrition is something you never outgrow.