The Virginian, a retirement community located in Fairfax, offers a pretty impressive culinary program for its residents. As the property’s clinical nutrition manager, Alexandra Freiman is part of the team that creates healthy, flavorful meals and snacks for those who live there. But the last thing she wants is to be thought of as the dreaded food police. “Through relationship building, I’m able to show residents that I’m not a judgmental entity scrutinizing their choices, but a friendly resource here to help as much or as little as they are comfortable with,” she says. After all, she adds, healthy food is only good for you if you’re actually eating it. She points out that there is a huge difference in our nutrient needs as we get older–not to mention our relationship with an attitude towards food. Here are some of her focus areas to consider to eat smart and enjoy it at the same time:
Healthy eating doesn’t mean giving up the things you love.
“The highest compliment I can receive is when I’ve been working with a resident, and they tell me, ‘It doesn’t even feel like I’m on a diet!’ It’s important to include the foundations of a healthy meal such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein; however, there’s always room for treats in moderation. Incorporating these favorite foods in our diets not only allows us to enjoy our meals, but decreases our risk of binging later on.”
Good food doesn’t need to taste bad.
“I hope to change this stereotype by promoting fresh and flavorful meals on our menus. There have been so many times where someone will tell me that they hate Brussels sprouts, but after after trying them roasted to perfection, they become a convert!”
Your relationship with food is just as important as what you’re eating.
“If we’ve learned anything during the pandemic, it’s that our mental health is crucial. What’s the point of eating food to prolong your life if you’re miserable in the process? Healthy eating, to me, is enjoying a nutrient-rich meal but allowing yourself to have a piece of crispy bacon with your spinach omelet, or a side of French fries with your turkey burger. I believe there is no such thing as ‘bad’ food as long as we embrace the principles of moderation. When we take the guilt out of eating, we let our mental health shine as much as our physical health. I’m all about emphasizing quality of life.”
Watching your calories means something different as we age.
“As we get older, there are a number of different physiological factors that influence the way we eat. Many older adults experience early satiety, loss of taste, and worsening dentition, and eat less as a result. Getting adequate nutrition is crucial in preventing age related malnutrition, which can lead to muscle weakness, decreased bone mass, a weakened immune system, higher risks of hospitalization, and an increased risk of death. Try choosing nutrient-dense foods and avoiding any “light” or low-calorie alternative. If you’re not able to eat much during your meal, try breaking them up into five to six small meals instead of three larger ones. Consider adding a nutrition supplement, smoothies, or fortified milkshakes to help meet your calorie needs.”
Maintaining bone health doesn’t only mean drinking milk.
As we age, our bodies absorb less calcium and vitamin D, despite our bones needing them more than ever. We traditionally think of dairy as being a good source of calcium and vitamin D; however, there are numerous other foods you can incorporate as well. Many cereals and fruit juices are fortified with calcium, and it is naturally found in dark green leafy vegetables and canned fish with soft bones. Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish, eggs, and fortified cereals.
Don’t overlook the importance of vitamin B12.
Much like calcium and vitamin D, our bodies absorb less vitamin B12 as we get older, which is important for the health of our red blood cells and can help prevent certain kinds of anemia. Vitamin B12 is found in liver, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, and fortified breakfast cereals.
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