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Lifestyle & General Interest

Heart-healthy Diet for Older Adults

05/04/2023

Diet is an essential aspect of living a healthy lifestyle. This fact is especially true for older adults. Studies have shown that a healthy diet, low in fat and rich in nutrients, can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other common, age-related diseases.

Diet is also important for avoiding heart disease, which causes one of every five deaths in the U.S. each year. It is no wonder that medical professionals often advise patients to improve their diets.

Challenges for older adults looking to improve their diets include the time commitment necessary to prepare healthy foods and a lack of accessibility in the kitchen. With the right accommodations, older adults living in their own homes can prepare foods that fit their dietary plans. Features like accessible cabinets and stovetops, wheelchair ramps, and easy-to-open refrigerators can help them meet their dietary goals.

Here is a look at the steps necessary to create a diet plan that is good for your heart and overall health.

Know Your Dietary Restrictions

Before starting any diet, you should consider any sensitivities or allergies that you may have. If you need to confirm sensitivities or food allergies, you can consult a doctor, who might consider various tests to either confirm or rule out these problems.

Heart-healthy diets often call for foods that provide protein while limiting fats. Some of these protein sources could include peanuts and dairy products like skim milk. If you have nut allergies or are lactose intolerant, these options are not appropriate and can even be dangerous.

If confronted by these issues, your doctor can help you find safe alternatives that allow you to get the necessary nutrients and avoid unhealthy foods and allergens.

Seek Diverse Foods To Get All Your Nutrients

One of the biggest issues with trying to follow a diet is that you may inadvertently avoid foods that provide the necessary nutrients. For example, red meat is rich in iron and zinc, minerals necessary for blood and immune system health. A lack of iron can lead to anemia, which can cause extreme weakness and fatigue.

According to Harvard Medical School, the best way to avoid this problem is to seek out a diverse range of foods and avoid relying too much on the same dishes day after day. Different vegetables, whole grains, legumes, dairy, and low-fat meats like chicken and fish may all be part of a heart-healthy diet that is also nutrient-rich.

The American Heart Association, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Mayo Clinic are among the trustworthy organizations offering resources to help you plan a heart-healthy diet.

Familiarize Yourself With Nutrition Labels

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires nutrition labels on many food products. All prepared, packaged, and manufactured foods must have these labels. Though they are not always required for raw foods, such as produce, meats, or fish, producers may put nutrition facts available on packaging voluntarily or have data available on a website.

Nutrition labels have vital data about the food. Firstly, they contain a list of ingredients so you can confirm the contents and see if there is anything you need to avoid.

Second, the label contains information about serving size and calorie counts. Since you want to be aware of your daily calorie intake on a heart-healthy diet, this information is also vital.

The FDA also requires information about nutrients. This includes vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein, which you want to include in your diet. It also lists things you want to avoid, such as sodium, which can cause or exacerbate high blood pressure. The label includes the measurement of each nutrient in one serving and the percentage of the recommended daily allowance for each.

The FDA has a resource to help you figure out the nutrients found in various raw foods, so you can include them in your daily dietary calculations.

Don’t Ignore Recommended Serving Sizes

The nutrient information and calorie counts are based on the recommended serving size on nutrition labels. If you eat too much or too little, your calculations will be off. If the serving size for your breakfast cereal is half a cup but you eat one cup, you are getting double both the positive and negative ingredients.

Serving size is especially important when it comes to calories. Most adults need between 1,600 and 3,000 calories, depending on gender, weight, height, weight loss goals, and amount of daily activity.

Portion-size errors can cause you to exceed your calorie intake limits, leading to weight gain, which could harm your heart and overall health.

Plan Meals Ahead of Time

One method to ensure proper nutrition and calorie intake is to plan your meals ahead of time. This strategy helps on different levels. Firstly, it will allow you to ensure you are getting the right proportion of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial dietary elements. Secondly, it makes it easier to purchase the necessary ingredients so that you can carry out your plans without having to rush to the store after your workday to get something you don’t have in your fridge.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, planning meals can help you avoid passive eating. If you are hungry and do not have a meal planned, you are more likely to eat unhealthy foods and overconsume, breaking the conditions of your diet.

Remember To Get Plenty of Fluids

Beverages are also an important part of a heart-healthy diet. On average, men need approximately 15.5 cups of fluid per day and women need 11.5 cups. Some of that water content does come from food, however staying adequately hydrated during the day is critical for the body to function properly. The ideal amount of daily fluid required by each person's body varies depending on activity levels and the environment.

The type of fluids you consume is almost as important as the volume. Sugary drinks and caffeinated beverages can add calories and unwanted nutrients to your body. In terms of dietary needs, it is best to consume water without any additives or artificial sweeteners. Juices with natural sugars, milk, and other beverages can contain additional nutrients and calories, which you want to factor into your daily intake.

Alcohol should not be counted as part of your daily fluid intake. In fact, excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. It can also increase weight, which can put additional strain on your heart. If you choose to consume alcohol, do so in moderation to avoid the health problems overconsumption can bring.

Integrate Exercise and Physical Activity

Physical activity is an important aspect of a heart-healthy lifestyle. The amount of activity you perform can affect how much you need to eat. If you are losing weight for health reasons or trying to maintain a healthy weight, the amount of exercise you do can affect your diet.

Aerobic exercise can also directly impact your heart by improving heart output and circulation and lowering blood pressure and resting heart rate.

Exercise does not need to be strenuous to be beneficial. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity, like brisk walking, gardening, or aerobics, five times per week. People with limited mobility could consider chair exercises or balance exercises, as well.

The Importance of Maintaining a Heart-healthy Diet

A heart-healthy diet can help you improve and maintain the health of your circulatory system. Healthy eating can also bring other benefits, especially to older adults. Diet can help lower risks for other age-associated illnesses, such as certain cancers. It can also assist with memory care and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia.

With proper planning and consistency, it is possible to maintain a diet that improves heart health and helps reduce the risk of developing other diseases.

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