Good Nutrition for Seniors During the Holidays

It’s that sugary time of year again, with tempting Christmas cookies, cakes, and candy canes coming at us from every direction! While some indulgence is more or less synonymous during the holidays, we need to watch over our seniors – especially those with blood sugar or cholesterol issues – and make sure they aren’t overdoing it.

Too much fat or sugar at one time can upset the digestion and worsen existing health problems. Moderation is the key, so let’s go over some holiday dos and don’ts to help our seniors enjoy the holidays while staying healthy and safe.

Foods to Limit or Avoid

Avoid too many processed foods and those that are high in added sugars or saturated fats. Check the nutrition label for fat and sugar levels. Some examples include:

  • Holiday Cookies and Desserts – Delicious as they are, store-bought cookies and other desserts are full of preservatives, sugar, and fat. Limit them or bake these treats at home to control the type of sweetener and fat used. Many healthy holiday recipes are available online.
  • Hard and Chewy Candies – Hard candies such as candy canes, caramels, and bonbons are not only high in sugar, but they also can cause gum or dental issues. Smaller hard or chewy candies can also present a choking hazard for the elderly.
  • Processed Foods – Highly processed foods often contain much more than the recommended amounts of sugar, salt, and fat. Examples include canned foods, processed cheese, savory snacks and chips, microwavable meals (aka TV dinners), and processed meat products such as hot dogs or bologna.
  • Fatty Foods – Partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats that may be harmful to heart health. Saturated fats (including so-called “healthy fats” like those found in nuts and certain tropical oils) should be eaten in moderation. All fats are high in calories and it’s easy to overindulge. Deep fried foods may cause inflammation in the body that can lead to many other health problems.

Healthy Foods and Beverages

A general rule of thumb is to stay well-hydrated and eat a variety of natural foods. Whole grains tend to be absorbed slowly, which keep blood sugar levels even. A snack between meals is fine – just choose healthy options. Some healthy foods and beverages include:

  • Water – Good old H2O is important for so many reasons! Staying well-hydrated is essential for basic metabolic functions and keeping organs functional. It also helps flush out any toxins from the system so if there are a few indulgences, drinking plenty of water is essential. If you want a little more flavor or pizazz, try squeezing some lemon or lime into unsweetened carbonated water.
  • Fruits and Vegetables – Raw or cooked, fruit and vegetables are a great source of essential vitamins and minerals. They also make a great snack between meals. For elderly loved ones who have difficulty chewing, fruit compotes or vegetable soups can be prepared.
  • Whole Grain Foods – Whole grain breads and cereals are always a better option, when possible. Refining grains lessens their nutritional value and causes them to be absorbed very quickly, so we feel hungry again within a short amount of time
  • Lean Meats and Fish – Try as much as possible to go for lean meats such as poultry, fish, and lean cuts of beef or pork.

Bottom line: it’s okay for your senior to indulge a little during the holidays, but eat treats in moderation. Be sure to balance those cookies, cakes, and candies with healthy food choices, so your loved one can stay healthier and can enjoy many more holidays to come!

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