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Senior Nutrition: Do
Elizabeth Bemis

By: Elizabeth Bemis on October 19th, 2020

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Senior Nutrition: Do's & Don’ts for Managing Salt & Sugar

Independent Senior Living  |  senior living nutrition  |  senior living homes  |  Aging & Caregiving  |  dependent senior living

It’s completely natural for seniors to experience some changes in their sense of taste. In fact, many have lost about two thirds of their overall taste buds by age 70, impacting their sensitivity to tastes like sweet and salty. Certain medications and medical conditions can also diminish a senior’s taste, causing some foods to seem bland. That’s why it’s common for seniors to overcompensate with higher intakes of sugar and salt.

Of course, moderating these ingredients is critical to maintaining proper health and mitigating the dangers of related risks. Conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, autoimmune disorders, liver disease and cardiovascular disease can all be negatively impacted by consuming excessive amounts of sugar and salt. Because seniors are already at higher risk of experiencing these types of conditions, it’s vital for them to be vigilant about how much salt and sugar they’re including in their diet. 

To help you or the senior in your life adhere to healthy guidelines for consuming sugar and salt, here are some valuable do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.


DO consult your physician and know your numbers.


The CDC’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, and less than 10 percent of calories from added sugars. Even so, your individual intake of salt and sugar should be based on individual health needs as indicated by your doctor. Be sure to check in with your physician on how much salt and sugar is acceptable in your diet, and monitor these levels regularly.


DON’T skip meals. 


Without adequate carbohydrates (often a byproduct of skipping meals) seniors tend to crave sugar. Try to plan healthy meals utilizing fresh, natural ingredients that keep these cravings at bay. If necessary, include suitable snacks in between meals. By thinking ahead, you can take the guesswork out of salt and sugar consumption, as well as preclude the chances of giving into hunger with easily accessible foods loaded in sugar and salt.


DO focus on hydration. 


As we age, our bodies sometimes experience a decrease in saliva production, which can lead to dry mouth and additional issues with taste. Avoid worsening this problem by drinking proper amounts of water and other fluids throughout the day. Staying hydrated can help your body counteract some of the negative impacts of salt and sugar in your system, as well as prevent the salt cravings that sometimes accompany dehydration.


DON’T be afraid to get creative with recipes. 


Sustaining healthy levels of sugar and salt in your diet does not mean you can’t enjoy delicious, flavorful foods. Just add some creativity to the mix! In many recipes, for example, sugar can be decreased without affecting taste, particularly by leveraging complementary spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or vanilla, or substituting with naturally sweet options such as fresh fruit and honey. A similar approach can be applied to savory recipes, utilizing powerful herbs and spices instead of excess sodium. 


DO read labels and beware of packaged foods. 


About 80% of the sugar and salt we eat is added to packaged and commercially prepared foods. Processed foods, in particular, tend to be high in these ingredients. Even seemingly harmless condiments like ketchup, mustard and soy sauce, or spreads like jelly and jam, can contain steep levels of salt and sugar. Get familiar with the labels on any of the boxes, cans and jars you’re considering purchasing. Examine them for excess amounts of sodium and added sugars. Consider swapping out packaged foods for fresh ones wherever possible. 

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DON’T be fooled by foods that sound healthy but aren’t.


Sometimes seniors consume foods they unknowingly assume are healthy but actually contain high levels of sugar and salt. Consider these examples:


  • While often a good source of dairy and protein, yogurt can also be full of excess sugar, particularly flavored and processed versions. To avoid these issues, stick with organic Greek yogurt, adding fresh fruit, homemade granola or natural honey to maximize taste.


  • Soups and broths can be hydrating, filling and comforting, but many canned types are loaded with sodium. Some chicken noodle brands, for instance, contain as much as 790 mg of sodium per cup, and even those labeled as “reduced sodium” are packed with greater amounts of salt than a healthier homemade version. When shopping, be sure to look for options that say “salt-free” or “sodium-free” (meaning no more than 5 mg of salt per serving).


  • Although many cereals claim nutritional advantages like high fiber and vitamin D, many are loaded with artificial vitamins and minerals, and may contain an entire day’s worth of recommended sugar. Opt instead for hot, whole grain cereals that have little or no sugar added, like old fashioned rolled oats or plain instant oatmeal. You can flavor these with natural fruits and spices.


  • Among some of the less obvious foods high in sodium are vegetable juice, tomato sauce, salsa and vegetables that are pre-seasoned, sauced, marinated or canned. That’s why it’s best to eat fresh veggies and make sauces from scratch. If you must buy frozen or canned, go with “low-salt” brands as well as options that aren’t premade with sauce or seasoning.


  • Many so-called natural fruit juices actually contain minor percentages of natural juice and major amounts of added sugar. While fruit juice is acceptable in moderation, whole fruits are always preferable. If orange juice is a favorite start to your morning, think about using fresh oranges to make your own. 


DO speak up about your dietary needs.


When dining at a restaurant or someone else’s home, don’t be afraid to voice your dietary restrictions concerning salt and sugar. Ask to have your food prepared with less or no salt, or find out what ingredients went into specific homemade dishes so you can avoid the ones that max out your daily percentages. Advocate for your own health by speaking up before diving right in.


DON’T underestimate the impacts of sugar and salt.


Whatever you do, be sure you take this issue seriously. Properly managing salt and sugar intake is essential to minimizing health problems and maximizing longevity, especially for seniors. Remember, paying close attention to these factors does not mean eliminating taste from your diet. You can still enjoy flavorful meals and snacks while keeping your sodium and sugar levels under control.  


For additional tips on senior health and lifestyle issues, check out our blog. If you’re interested in learning more about United Methodist Homes senior living community, contact us today. If you're ready to visit a community, schedule your tour here

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About Elizabeth Bemis

In 1998, I drove past an assisted living community construction site, learned that it was part of United Methodist Homes and realized the next stop on my professional journey was to work for a mission driven organization. Soon after, I joined the team as Executive Director of our Middlewoods of Farmington community and later served as Regional Manager for the Middlewoods properties before accepting my current role as Vice President of Marketing, Promotions, and Assisted Living Operations. I enjoy spending time with my family, cooking, reading, walking, and love working alongside our staff, residents, and families to build strong communities that reflect the mission, vision, and values of United Methodist Homes.

Our Blog is a 2016 Platinum Generations Award Winner! The Generations Award is an annual international competition for excellence in senior marketing recognizing professionals who have communicated to the 50+ Mature Markets.