Battling the Barriers to Senior Nutrition
In a world where food is accessible at nearly every corner, whether through a fast-food chain, a sit-down restaurant, or a supermarket, people have more options than ever when it comes to their eating habits. When we opt for a greasy burger over a healthier option, we often have no one to blame but ourselves.
However, for many in Texas, the option to eat healthier is not as simple and easy as it seems. According to feedingtexas.org, more than 4 million Texans — roughly 1 in 7 — struggle with food insecurity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the issue of food insecurity and the lack of proper nutrition for Texans of all ages, including older adults. Factors include finances, food supplies, social support and transportation issues. The social distancing precautions related to the pandemic have only made these issues more prevalent, and more severe.
Not All Foods Fit
While the drive-thru is convenient, it is important for everyone, especially older adults, to eat well-balanced meals that contain plenty of nutrients.
Denice Taylor, a registered dietitian for Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, said not all foods fit everybody.
“There is a saying ‘All foods fit,’ but with [older adults], foods and drinks that are high in sugar and fat tend to displace foods and should be limited,” Taylor said. “[Older adults] should focus on increasing [intake of] fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein.”
For older adults, fewer calories matter, but should contain more nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D and B vitamins.
Adults over 65 taking medication for high blood pressure, insomnia or anxiety should avoid grapefruit, which can interact with these medications and cause serious side effects. Other foods to avoid include raw and uncooked meat, undercooked eggs and soft cheeses.
Make a Plan
Caregivers should know which foods are best for their loved ones, and should discuss and create a wellness plan to ensure access to the necessary foods and nutrition. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) MyPlate program, which can be found at choosemyplate.gov, helps older adults and their caregivers choose the right meal and nutrient schedule based on age and activity level.
Budgeting for groceries is important at any age, yet it is even more so for older adults, when a decrease in finances and income can call for strict budgeting and planning. It seems difficult and daunting, but eating healthy on a budget is possible.
“Seniors should learn about healthy eating on a budget and incorporate that into meal planning and shopping,” Taylor said.
Caregivers can also maintain a pantry of healthy, nonperishable foods, plan menus in advance and find ways to freeze simple meals for the future.
Fighting Hunger and Isolation
Making grocery shopping plans between caregivers and their loved ones can help to ward off hunger as well as reduce social isolation.
Programs and resources for adults over the age of 65 in the Dallas/Fort Worth and North Texas area are available to assist caregivers and their loved ones obtain nutritious, healthy food. An example is Meals on Wheels, available through the Visiting Nurse Association.
A directory for finding resources via ZIP code is available at findhelp.org. The Blue Zones Project in Fort Worth has implemented the Double Up Food Bucks program, which doubles the value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at three grocery stores and the Cowtown Farmers’ Market in Fort Worth. Details of the Fort Worth program, as well as programs in other cities across Texas, can be found at doubleuptexas.org.