Family is very important in Filipino culture, so it’s not uncommon for Pinoys to live with and take care of their aging parents or grandparents. Caring for the elderly doesn’t just mean creating a comfortable space that is conducive to seniors—minimal stairs, slip-free bathroom floors—but also keeping a close eye on their diet. However, coming up with a diet for seniors can take lots of careful planning, given their possible health issues, dietary restrictions, and conditions that come with age. Snacks might be especially challenging as many of the readily available munchies in stores are filled with processed sugar, saturated fat, and sodium—all no-nos for the elderly. Coming up with a list of healthy snacks for seniors should thus be part of your caregiving plan.
The Importance of Snacking
Why is snacking important for seniors? The experts weigh in on the topic at online health resource Sharecare, explaining that appetites may decline as people get older. They may not eat as much during meal times; thus, snacking becomes a way to meet their daily caloric and nutritional needs.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics cited a study of more than 2,000 adults that found snacking to be an important dietary behavior for those aged 65 years and older. “Eighty-four percent of the study subjects ate snacks daily, with an average of about two and a half snacks per day. Those who ate snacks consumed significantly higher amounts of calories, protein, carbohydrates, and total fat throughout the day than non-snackers,” states the academy.
As snacking is something that is meant to help seniors meet their daily requirements, you should make sure to choose nutrient-rich foods that are easy for them to digest and that will not have detrimental effects on their health.
Healthy Snacking for Seniors Made Easy
As we get older, our bodies may have to contend with a host of health issues. The key for seniors is to choose snacks that address these issues, or that at least won’t exacerbate them. The following are some senior-friendly snack options:
Soft foods. Some seniors may not have any teeth or may have a hard time chewing so soft foods are ideal.
Senior-friendly snacks: Oatmeal, yogurt, and pudding are all easy on the gums. As much as possible, choose those that aren’t loaded with added ingredients and sugar. Old-fashioned oats with fresh fruit are a better option than instant oatmeal that comes with fruits, for example, while Greek yogurt contains more protein and less sugar than flavored varieties. (Bonus: Yogurt contains probiotics, which are good for the gut. Just make sure to choose those that say “live and active cultures.”)
Calcium-rich foods. One reason slips and falls are more dangerous for seniors is the higher risk of breaking a bone. As we get older, the risk of developing osteoporosis—a condition that weakens bones—increases. While the best time to strengthen bones is when you’re young, a little extra calcium at any age certainly won’t hurt.
Senior-friendly snacks: Low-fat milk; low-fat, low-sodium cheeses, and yogurt are all rich in calcium.
Fiber-rich foods. Constipation is said to affect two-thirds of people over 65. While “regular” bowel movement means different things to different people, constipation is generally defined as infrequent bowel movement with two or more of the following symptoms, according to medalerthelp.org: hard and lumpy stool, straining during defecation, the sense of incomplete evacuation, and the need to “help” the stool come out. Increasing fiber intake as well as hydration can help alleviate constipation.
Senior-friendly snacks: As much as possible, seniors should get their fiber from whole foods like fruits and vegetables. Prune juice has long been the go-to drink to relieve constipation, but other fruit juices can also give seniors the much-needed combination of fiber and hydration. Just make sure that said juices don’t contain added sugars.
Visit Healthy Options for a range of healthy snack options for seniors. Whatever snacks you choose, keep an eye on the sugar, sodium, and saturated fat content, especially if the seniors in your care are at risk for diabetes, hypertension, or heart disease. Of course, life is short. So, if they want the occasional treat—say a small slice of cake or some chicharon—then why not? As long as they’re eating healthy most of the time and their doctor gives the OK, then a sweet or salty indulgence every now and then can keep them happy!