What’s in a diet?

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Being on a specific diet or dieting can be confusing. Some people “diet” to lose weight or train for a specific sporting event, but what’s important is maintaining a healthy diet from day to day.

There’s a saying that’s good to remember, especially as we age: “Eat when you are hungry, drink when you are thirsty and rest when you are tired.” However, it can sometimes be hard to follow this advice! So let’s talk about some tips to help us take care of our bodies, inside and out.

Metabolism

Our metabolism determines how our bodies use the food we eat once it reaches the digestive system. The amount of energy your body uses (in calories) to keep itself going is related to the process of metabolism. Whether you are sleeping, exercising, walking or eating, your metabolism is constantly at work. But as the body ages and our activities slow down, our metabolism slows down as well. This may mean we have to adjust the amount of food we eat to stay the same weight. Experts suggest eating smaller meals more often throughout the day and moderately exercising for approximately 30 minutes three to four times a week. Following this pattern can help you maintain a healthy body and keep an appropriate weight for your body type.

A balanced diet

A healthy and balanced diet means eating from a variety of food groups. Pick up “Canada’s Food Guide” at your doctor’s office or access it from Health Canada online (www.hc-sc.gc.ca). If you are visiting a dietician or have another appointment at the hospital, see if they have the food guide in hard copy. Be sure to ask if you don’t see one while you are there!

It’s important to monitor other aspects of your diet as well. Those include items such as salt, carbohydrates (sugars and starches) and calorie intake. Salt should be reduced to an acceptable daily amount of 2,500–3,000 mg (one to one-and-a-half teaspoons). Processed and canned foods are very high in salt and should be eaten in moderation. On the other hand, foods that are high in vitamins, minerals and fibre, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, should be eaten regularly.

If you have specific health concerns such as diabetes or high cholesterol, your family doctor or specialist will recommend you eat certain foods and avoid or restrict others. Your doctor will be glad to answer any questions you may have about specific food groups at your next scheduled appointment. He or she can also refer you to a dietician, who will go over your daily food intake and identify places you can make changes and improvements on your way to a healthier diet.

Eating out

Dining out at a restaurant or family function can be a tricky time for healthy eating. You may be confronted with food you’re not used to. On these occasions, it is important to know what is in the food you are being served and to keep portion sizes small. This will help reduce the risk of indigestion or perhaps even diarrhea or stomach cramps. If you have food allergies, be sure to let your server know. If you are unsure, don’t take any chances.

Limit coffee

Caffeine can cause the elderly (or anyone) difficulty, if not taken in moderation. It’s tempting to go to Tim Horton’s or the local coffee shop to meet friends, but think before you order. Caffeine depletes the fluids in your body and can also act as a stimulant to speed up your bowels. Limit your intake of coffee, tea or hot chocolate to one to two cups per day—maximum.

Hard to digest

Some foods are more readily digestible than others and it is important to know which are harder to take in, especially as we age. Examples of hard foods to digest are beef and other grainy meats such as pork, and corn and other vegetables that may create gas, such as cabbage, cauliflower or brussel sprouts. Once again—avoid entirely or eat these items in moderation to avoid issues with digestion.

Mixed with medication

One final tip in discussing diet and foods that are healthy for us as we reach a more advanced age (or even at any age) is to ensure that the foods you eat do not interact or cause difficulty in taking medications. A couple of common medications that have these types of restrictions are Lipitor (for lowering cholesterol) and specific antibiotics, which may be prescribed to heal an infection. Talk to your pharmacist when you collect your medication and ask if there are any foods you should be avoiding.

Be on the safe side and speak to a healthcare professional if you have specific diet concerns. Eat small, easily digestible meals, eat when you are hungry and be sure to balance your healthy eating with a moderate exercise program that is just right for you.

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About Deb Jenkins, RN, BScN, MN

Deb Jenkins is a long-term care nurse. She can be reached at deborahannejenkins@gmail.com.

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