Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Estela Cazin PHHI Dietician

Welcome to March, the month when Panhandle Home Health celebrates National Nutrition Month, established by the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics! Panhandle enthusiastically endorses its plain but poetic 2020 theme, which is the title of our article. We think it simplifies a subject for which there is an overwhelming amount of conflicting advice – and often misinformation – that comes at you from every direction, and from everyone. You are instructed to eat clean, eat Mediterranean, eat intuitively, eat intermittently . . . How hard is it to eat wisely, especially as an older adult?

The thing is, as you probably have heard all your life, good nutrition is critical to your well-being, helping to reduce the risk of some diseases, including certain cancers, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and osteoporosis. As the American Heart Association advises, “Food is fuel for your body, and you can improve how well your body works by feeding it the most nutritious fuel. It is important to think about what and how much you eat.”

Diet, in fact, plays a role in brain health, encouraging good blood flow to the brain. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises that, if you are feeling forgetful, you may want to consider some fairly simple revisions to your diet:

  • Vegetables, especially cruciferous ones, like broccoli, cabbage, and dark leafy greens, may boost memory.
  • Blackberries, blueberries, and cherries – fresh, frozen, or dried – are a rich source of flavonoids that may aid memory.
  • Seafood, algae, and fatty fish, including salmon, Bluefin tuna, sardines, and herrings, are some of the best sources of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is essential for brain health.
  • Walnuts, which have a positive impact on heart health, may also improve cognitive function.

As most of us have discovered, when you quit paying attention to what you put in your stomach, your body lets you know pretty quickly that there’s a price to be paid for too much of the wrong fuel! An easy nutrition tip from the National Institute on Aging is to write down what and how much you eat each day, so you can track your total daily calories and ensure you are making healthy food choices.

The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy diet is recognizing exactly what you are eating. The Food and Drug Administration provides a handy tool called the Nutrition Facts Label. It's affixed to all packaged foods and beverages and tells you the following:

  • Serving Size. Remember, all the nutrition information on the label is based upon one serving of the food, but a package of food often contains more than one serving!
  • Number of Calories. A product that’s fat-free may not be calorie-free, so always read the label!
  • Percent (%) Daily Value. Note that daily values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet, but your nutritional needs likely depend upon your physical activity.

For example, a not-physically-active man who is over age 50 needs 2,000-2,200 calories to maintain his current weight, but a not-physically-active woman over age 50 only requires 1,600 calories. “Not physically active” means you engage only in basic movements of daily life. To be considered “moderately active,” you need to add about 1.5 to 3 miles of brisk walking to your day; then your calorie needs to increase to 2,200-2,400 if you are male, and 1,800 if you are female.

  • Nutrients to Limit. Too much total fat, cholesterol, and sodium may increase your risk of chronic diseases, so be aware of how much you are consuming each day!
  • Nutrients to Seek. Americans’ diets often lack dietary fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium, and potassium, but they are necessary for keeping you strong and healthy!

The National Institute on Aging offers ten tips for obtaining the nutrients you need:

  1. Drink plenty of liquids. It’s essential to stay hydrated. Unfortunately, as we grow older, some of us lose our sense of thirst. Drink water often! Limit beverages that have lots of added sugar or salt. Choose low-fat or fat-free milk or 100% juice.
  2. Make eating a social event. Meals are more enjoyable when you eat with others.
  3. Plan healthy meals. Base your menu on information from sources like and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  4. Know how much to eat so you can control portion size.
  5. Vary your vegetables. Include different colors, flavors, and textures. Most vegetables are a low-calorie source of nutrients and a good source of fiber.
  6. Don’t allow your dental problems to interfere with your intake of essential nutrients! If it’s hard to chew fruits, vegetables, or meats, eating softer foods can help. Try cooked or canned food alternatives like unsweetened fruit, low-sodium soups, or tuna.
  7. Use herbs and spices to add flavor to your meals. Our senses of smell and taste may be diminished by the medications we take and the process of aging.
  8. Be vigilant about practicing food safety because a food-related illness can be life-threatening for an older person. Throw it out if you are in doubt, and make certain that eggs, sprouts, fish, shellfish, meat, and poultry are never undercooked.
  9. Carefully review those Nutrition Facts Labels!
  10. Consult your doctor before taking vitamins or supplements because they may interfere with your medications or medical conditions.

The Mayo Clinic acknowledges that what is known about nutrition and diet is evolving, but eating a variety of wholesome foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean protein, including beans and other legumes, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats -- that support your health is fundamental. Make certain the healthy diet you adopt includes foods you can purchase in your local grocery, rather than a specialty or gourmet shop, and that it is compatible with your budget, lifestyle, and tastes.

Admit it: Most of us are susceptible to the extraordinary health claims of the newest diet being touted by the super athlete or attractive actress; however, as the Mayo Clinic suggests, it’s smart to speak with your doctor or a dietitian for personalized dietary advice that considers your health status and challenges.

Spring is the season of renewal, and in March you can determine to eat right, bite by bite! Panhandle’s registered dietician will be happy to work with you to prepare a realistic meal plan that will optimize your health.

Panhandle Home Health has been providing home health services for over 44 years.  Visit us at to find out how we can put you back on the road to a successful recovery.

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