Seniors who have been discharged from the hospital do not always have guidance and follow-up on how to get proper nutrition. Even if they don’t come home with a special diet, it’s especially important to pay attention to nutrition at this time. With the right nutrition, healing, rehabilitation, and recovery can happen faster, while the chance of re-hospitalization decreases.
Caregivers should work nutrition into their care plan, be knowledgeable about nutrition guidelines for seniors, and understand the different factors that affect dietary intake and nutrient absorption.
Follow these three principles to guide your post-hospital nutrition plan:
Step 1: Understand Dietary Guidelines & Nutritional Requirements for Older Adults
After age 50, individuals should take in 1,600 to 2,800 calories/day, depending on level of physical activity & weight. Of course, rehabilitation after hospitalization often means a period of lower physical activity, so it’s especially important to make every calorie count with nutrition-rich food.
The USDA Food Patterns Plan recommends that individuals over 50 eat a variety of healthy foods from the following – and while healing after a hospital stay, emphasize choices that have the highest nutritional values:
- Fruits: 3-5 servings (Deep colors including berries, peaches, pumpkin, cantaloupe); one serving = one small peach, ¼ cup dried fruit, ½ cup sliced apples
- Vegetables: 2 to 4 cups (Dark greens such as kale, broccoli and spinach)
- Grains: 5 to 10 servings (Choose whole grains, baked goods can be made from scratch using whole wheat instead of white flour); one serving would be a small bran muffin, 1 slice of whole-wheat bread, 1/2 c. cooked brown rice
- Protein: 5 to 7 servings (Lean protein, eggs, peanut or almond butter, beans); one serving = one egg, ½ c. cooked beans, 1 tbsp nut butter, 4 oz. Fish, 3 oz. lean meat
- Dairy: 3 cups (1 cup fat-free milk or one cup yogurt)
- Oils and Healthy Fats: 5 to 8 teaspoons (Avocado, nuts, and olives); ¼ c. avocado, ¼ c. nuts, 1 tsp olive oil, 8 olives
- Solid fats and added sugars: Keep these amounts to a minimum. (Cookies, chips, etc.); read labels for awareness of added sugars, which are often found in unexpected places, such as in spaghetti sauces or salsas
Step 2: Be Aware of Nutritional Concerns
Individuals with high cholesterol, diabetes or malnutrition may need to be extra cautious with their diets and follow more strict nutrition guidelines.
High Cholesterol: Eat foods with omega-3s such as fish, nuts and avocados. Stay away from foods that are high in saturated fat such as margarine, hamburgers and fried foods.
Diabetes: Restrict or eliminate alcohol use to maintain optimal glucose levels. Seniors with diabetes are more likely to be nutrient deficient in vitamins B1, B12, C, D, folate, calcium, zinc and magnesium. Make sure to get foods full of these nutrients or foods that are fortified.
Malnutrition: Loss of appetite or difficulty swallowing can make older individuals more susceptible to malnutrition. Add snacks like dried fruit and nuts throughout the day to add nutrients. Add herbs and spices to meals to give food flavor without added salt.
Step 3: Know Special Factors May Affect Dietary Intake & Nutrient Absorption
There are many factors that may affect an individual’s dietary intake and nutrient absorption with age.
- Difficulty swallowing or lack of mobility can make eating and enjoying food more difficult.
- Medication, depression and isolation can cause a loss of appetite or change the way foods taste.
- Older adults may not absorb nutrients properly because of slower metabolism.
As our bodies age, our daily eating habits change. Older individuals can make minor adjustments to continue enjoying foods and beverages.
Mindful Eating Habits for All Seniors
- Instead of salting foods for flavor, add herbs and spices.
- Add fruits and vegetables to snacks and meals. Buy pre-sliced fruits and vegetables such as apples, baby carrots and cut up melons.
- Drink water and milk instead of sugary drinks.
- Enjoy yogurt, hard cheese and lactose-free foods throughout the day.
- Eat foods that are fortified with vitamin B12.
Many discharged patients neglect their diet simply because they can’t transport themselves to purchase groceries or don’t have the energy to cook healthy meals. A professional caregiver from Assisting Hands Home Care serving Columbus, OH can assist with trips to and from the grocery store and meal preparation for both special and unrestricted diets. If you or your loved one needs extra help while recovering from surgery or a hospitalization, give us a call today.
Sources: ClearCare, National Institute on Aging, USDA.gov Dietary Guidelines