Nutrition and caregiving

In spite of the fact that older folks need fewer calories, it is vitally important that they still maintain good nutritional habits, according to the developers of the elderly food pyramid at Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. The largest part of the pyramid, the base, is 8, 8- ounce glasses of water, to prevent dehydration and to alleviate constipation. For elderly people who are able to serve themselves water, this is not problematic, but for more dependent folks, caregivers may want to have water readily available for them to drink, perhaps in a spill-proof cup with a straw.

The pyramid also suggests that older folks consume higher levels of antioxidants, as well as vitamin D and calcium. Caregivers should incorporate dark-colored vegetables into their older person's diet, as well as yellow or orange fruits and vegetables that are a good source of vitamins A and C. Whole grains are also essential, and fiber sources appear on nearly every level of the pyramid for the elderly. In addition to helping with bowel function, many whole grains help lower cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease.

As with the nutrition pyramid for younger people, this pyramid recommends that fats and sweets are consumed sparingly. The best approach is to try to ensure that the calories consumed are nutritionally dense, not empty calories that are neither satisfying nor healthy. Proteins are an important part of any healthy diet, and they don't all have to come from animal sources. Protein-rich grains and beans can be substituted for lean chicken, beef, or fish. Vitamin supplements are at the top of the pyramid, but these are not intended to take the place of healthy food choices. Calcium and Vitamin D supplements may be taken to prevent bone loss, and B12 supplements can help maintain nerve function.

For more information contact the BHSN Caregiver Resource Center.

The Senior Connection is a column provided by the Clinton County Office for the Aging. For more information about services for senior citizens, contact their office at 135 Margaret St., Suite 105, Plattsburgh or call them at 565-4620. Information is also periodically provided by the Behavioral Health Services North Caregiver Resource Center. They may be reached at 565-4543 or 565-4625.

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