By | August 11, 2016

The role of diet in maintaining physical and mental health throughout seniority is well-documented, reports CBS News. While senior caregivers in skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies and assisted living communities have been able to meet dietary requirements in the past with simple menus, these providers will need to readjust menus once again in response to some new trends and recommendations for the diets of seniors.


New MyPlate Recommendations Released for Better Senior Health

The iconic MyPlate for Older Adults icon has been “revamped” to meet the most current dietary guidelines, reports Lisa Esposito of U.S. News. This icon, which contains a quick view of all recommendations, is based on the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. While new guidelines have been released for all ages, this icon is specific to the dietary and physical needs of the elderly.

The icon reflects the role of different food groups in promoting better health. For example, 50 percent of the icon is dedicated to fruits and vegetables, but it goes further by indicating canned fruits and veggies may actually contain high, potentially harmful levels of sodium. Essentially, the icon provides a brief explanation of what types of foods should be considered. Other key food groups within the icon include the following:

  • Herbs and spices – The ability to taste salt diminished with age, leading to higher sodium intake among seniors. As a result, the icon recommends using herbs and spices to enhance flavor in place of salt.
  • Fluids – Seniors may have a tendency to avoid drinking fluids, but the icon reminds senior caregivers that fluid intake can come from much more than just water. For example, tea, coffee, soups and fluids from fruits and vegetables needs to be taken into account when monitoring for hydration.
  • Grains – The icon no longer shows “processed grains.” Instead, it dictates the need to consumer whole grains when possible. For those with poor diets, fortified grains may be necessary.
  • Daily – Fat-free and low-fat dairy products find their way onto the new icon, emphasizing a greater awareness of fat consumption.
  • Proteins – Healthy proteins from a variety of sources, such as nuts, beans, fish, lean meats and poultry replace the standard serving size of meats in MyPlate for Older Adults.
  • Healthy oils – The addition of healthy oils is a new aspect of MyPlate for Older Adults as well. It includes liquid vegetable oils, such as olive oil.

MyPlate for Older Adults is also considerate of the need for physical activity to stay mentally and physically healthy. It includes simple images of walking, biking and swimming to remind seniors of the critical balance between activity and diet.


What Other Trends Are Occurring in the Diets of Seniors?

While the new MyPlate for Older Adults icon can seem overwhelming, it is only one side of the coin affecting the dietary needs of seniors. According to Alejandra Cancino of The Associated Press, many skilled nursing facilities, home health providers and dietary assistance programs for seniors, such as Meals on Wheels, are starting to focus on providing individualized menu options.

Traditionally, menu options in these settings have been limited to one or two selections, and in some cases, the menu may have been finite with one option. However, some caregiver facilities are actually taking menu options further with fully individualized selections. For example, the role of “cook” in the facility is becoming more akin to “chef,” with some dietary departments opting to prepare specialized meals for specific clients, such as a “Thai-style soup […] for a woman of Asian descent.”

Some might argue this approach is impractical, but Amity Overall-Laib, Director of the National Long-Term Ombudsman Resource Center, believes it will open doors for seniors to improve their health. Basically, seniors who can select healthy menu choices will be more likely to eat a well-balanced meal, which poses major benefits for the overall well-being of the residents and clients in a facility.

For example, a senior may not be willing to eat the “hospital-style foods” of a skilled nursing facility, leading to weight-loss, poor immune function and dissatisfaction.

Think about this concept for a moment: eating is supposed to be an enjoyable and life-sustaining activity. By bringing favored food choices to the menu, seniors will be more likely to eat and maintain their health. Obviously, the menus will need to reflect dietary guidelines. In other words, pizza and pies are not a 24/7 dish, but veggie pizza or sugar-free pies may be the solution. It is all a matter of perspective, and seniors will gain a voice in the kitchen that prepares their meals.


What Do These Trends and Recommendations Mean for Your Dietary Department?

As of now, these guidelines are not mandated by any state or federal authority. However, these guidelines and trends are leading the way toward better care of seniors in facilities around the country. You will not have to make major changes to how you prepare food for those you serve, but you should consider how these changes could impact the bottom line of your facility.

For example, better dietary health may lead to lower rate of infections among your residents or clients. As a result, your census can remain stable, which promotes a more cohesive continuum of care. In other words, avoiding unnecessary hospital stays through better diets is one of the best ways to ensure the health and longevity of your clients. This also helps your organization maintain financial accountability and compliance with best practices in home, long-term or short-term care settings.


Final Thoughts

As a senior care provider, helping those you serve understand guidelines MyPlate for Older Adults is simple. MyPlate for Older Adults is available for download and distribution in English, Spanish or Chinese here.

In fact, AARP and Tufts University offers up several ways of making the new icon part of each meal, such as printing and laminating the image for use a placemat, handing it out to residents and family members and using it when planning menus or when shopping tool for those who receive home health services.

Individualized menus and new dietary guidelines for seniors are part of the battle against aging and poor overall health. However, you can take action now by simply understanding what these changes mean and how to disperse them to those you serve.

Jason Vanover

Working in health care since 2005, Jason's body of experience encompasses dozens of care settings, including Senior care, psychiatric facilities, nonprofit health service centers, group homes for those with developmental disabilities and beyond. Jason understands the need to tailor his skills to each setting to encourage the best treatment outcomes and promote an inclusive, healing environment.

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