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Senior Nutrition: Your Diet and Cholesterol
Marissa Salvesen

By: Marissa Salvesen on August 9th, 2021

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Senior Nutrition: Your Diet and Cholesterol

assisted living  |  senior nutrition  |  senior nutrition ct  |  senior living nutrition  |  health tips for seniors  |  Aging & Caregiving

Heart disease continues to rank as the number-one cause of death in the United States, impacting millions of Americans every year. And if you think you don’t have to be concerned about issues like cholesterol once you hit a certain age, think again. People age 65 and older are much more likely to suffer a heart attack, have a stroke, or develop heart disease and heart failure. Heart disease is also a major cause of disability, meaning it can limit one’s activity and significantly erode a senior’s quality of life.


How one prioritizes cholesterol management in their life is critically linked to their ability to prevent and treat heart disease, which makes this an important area of focus in senior nutrition and lifestyle. To help seniors form a clearer picture of the role cholesterol plays in their overall health, this article provides valuable explanations and tips on how to make better decisions related to diet.


Bad Cholesterol Vs. Good Cholesterol


You may have heard that there are two kinds of cholesterol: the “bad” kind and the “good” kind. For seniors to manage their cholesterol in a healthy way, it’s important to understand the difference. 


Cholesterol travels through the blood on proteins called lipoproteins, and these are what differentiate the “bad” cholesterol from the “good.” LDL (low-density lipoprotein) makes up most of your body’s cholesterol, and high levels of it raise your risk for heart disease and stroke. HDL (high-density lipoprotein), on the other hand, absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver, which then flushes the cholesterol from the body. Therefore, high levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. 


When your body has too much LDL or bad cholesterol, it can build up on the walls of your blood vessels. As blood vessels build up this plaque over time, the insides of the vessels narrow and block blood flow to and from your heart and other organs. Blocked blood flow to the heart eventually leads to chest pain and/or heart attack. 


With insight into how cholesterol impacts the human body, seniors can take a more informed approach to manage their diet based on choices that emphasize good cholesterol and minimize bad cholesterol. 


Monitoring Cholesterol Levels


As we age, our cholesterol levels are more inclined to elevate. That’s another reason why this area of health and diet is so consequential to older adults in particular. Unfortunately, there are no outward warning signs of high cholesterol, so it’s entirely plausible for seniors to be completely unaware of their numbers until a medical emergency, like a heart attack, occurs. 


Because of this, it’s recommended that seniors consistently monitor their cholesterol levels under the direction of their physicians. Your doctor can perform a blood test to find out your cholesterol levels, including LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol, as well as triglycerides (another type of fat in the blood that puts you at risk for heart problems). With this information, they can best advise you on how to enhance your cholesterol levels, whether through healthy food choices, physical activity, or medications like statins. 


Generally speaking, seniors should be screened for their cholesterol levels more frequently than younger adults. Your physician is a crucial source of guidance and information for monitoring and treating cholesterol levels, so rely on them to assess your numbers, set proper targets and assist you in staying on track.


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What Diet’s Got to Do with It


As mentioned, one of the primary ways to reach healthy cholesterol levels is through food choices that support this goal. First and foremost, seniors should start examining what kinds of foods they’re consuming. Think in terms of a diet that promotes low levels of bad cholesterol and high levels of good cholesterol. 


Fat intake is a major factor in this effort, as fatty acids bind to liver cells and regulate the production of cholesterol. As such, you need to consider not only the quantities of fat in your diet but also the types. For example, saturated fats cause the liver to produce more bad cholesterol, so it’s important to limit those. Also detrimental are trans fats, which are artificially produced through hydrogenation and are present in options like fried food, baked goods, and packaged foods. Unsaturated fats, which are commonly found in fish, plants, nuts, seeds, beans, and vegetable oils, can help increase the rate at which your liver reabsorbs and breaks down bad cholesterol, so you’ll want a healthy amount of these in your diet. 


Another element to consider is fiber. Because a fiber-rich diet can positively impact cholesterol levels, try to integrate proper amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 


The Truth About Alcohol


Interestingly, some research has shown that people who drink alcohol in moderation have lower rates of heart disease, and might even live longer than those who abstain. Many believe that the main benefit comes from its ability to raise good cholesterol levels. Red wine, in particular, is thought to offer the greatest benefit for lowering heart disease risk and death because it contains higher levels of natural plant chemicals that have antioxidant properties and might protect artery walls.


But the keyword here is moderation. In fact, drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke, raise blood pressure, contribute to obesity and increase the triglycerides in your blood. Eventually, excessive alcohol use can leave the heart too weak to pump efficiently.


Because of these downsides and others related to alcohol consumption, the American Heart Association does not advise that you start drinking wine or any other alcoholic beverages specifically to lower your cholesterol or improve your heart health. If you do plan to drink, check with your doctor first, and limit your intake based on their direction. 


In addition to the nutritional aspects of managing cholesterol, there are other lifestyle choices to focus on, such as maintaining proper physical activity and abstaining from smoking. It’s vital for seniors to take a holistic approach to heart health by recognizing the importance each factor plays in the management of cholesterol and other heart-related issues. 


To find out how United Methodist Homes helps our residents maintain their nutritional needs, contact us today or schedule a complimentary visit now. For additional tips on senior health and lifestyle issues, check out our blog

About Marissa Salvesen

My journey into the world of senior living began when I started working for United Methodist Homes in 2010. Starting as an Activities Director at one of our-winning assisted and independent living communities and then transitioning to Marketing and Promotions Manager for UMH, I now work as the Manager of Mission Development, fostering the Mission and Values of our organization. I love sharing stories about the many ways we build meaningful relationships and enrich the lives of those we serve, and am proud to be part of building UMH’s 140-year legacy of caring. Wondering what makes our communities such special places to live and work? Connect with me and find out!

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.