Recently I have been thinking about how we all read and hear a lot of messages in the news papers and on TV about the importance of healthy eating. I know we are not always so good at following it, because it seems that every week there is a new super food, or a piece of research that tells us that something that was good for us is now felt not to be or vice-versa. Battling through this is difficult and confusing, especially if you are being told to change the eating habits that you have followed happily for years.
The important thing to remember is that by making what are sometimes small changes to the way you eat and drink, it is possible to make big changes to how you feel.
As we age, our bodies start to work less efficiently, and this applies to the tummy and digestive system as much as any other part of the body.
Heartburn, indigestion and constipation are common as are changes in food tastes and preferences and a reduction in appetite. Poor diet and not drinking enough can also leave you at increased risk of contracting a urine infection or affecting the condition of your skin.
Urine infections can, and often do have a huge impact on health and well-being and can lead to admission to hospital because of the severity of the infection and possibly being de-hydrated. They can also cause confusion which can be mistaken for the early signs of dementia and increase the risk of falling with all of the associated risks of injury and the long term effects this can have. Poor skin condition can leave you at risk of developing pressure or bed sores, particularly if you are not getting up and about as much.
There are some simple steps that can be put in place to help manage some of these obvious symptoms, but also to help mage the risk of developing urine infections and poor skin condition.
It is important to drink plenty, at least 1.6 litres or just under 3 pints each day. This sounds a lot, but does not all have to come from drinks. Water is great, but if that is difficult, squash, tea, coffee and juice all count. Fluid can also come from soup, jellies, gravy and sauces (providing they do not have a high salt content) and milk on cereal. Drinking more will help to reduce the risk of all the complaints and conditions above.
Drinking more will really make a difference to how you feel, the down side may be that you need to go to the toilet a little more often, but the trade off against felling better and reducing the possible risk of being admitted to hospital must be worth it!
If having to get up and use the toilet more often is difficult, try ensuring regular toilet trips rather than leaving it until the last minute. You could also speak to your doctor about a referral to the continence nurse or investigate some of the many very easy to use continence products available to buy.
Eating well is also very important. Food is what gives our bodies fuel and allows us to be active. It is common for our appetites to decrease as we get older and ill health and the effect of medication that you have to take can contribute to this as well.
Having a big meal put in front of you can feel off putting, or it may be that things you used to enjoy just don’t taste the same any more.
It is still important to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner and if your appetite is small try having a little snack in between to compensate for the smaller portions. Experiment with new foods or things that you haven’t tried for a while.
Good foods to try, as well as being easy and quick to prepare could include porridge, cereal, bananas, wholemeal rather than white bread, frozen rather than fresh vegetables (no peeling or chopping) yogurts or other individual desserts.
If savoury food does not taste as good, try adding a few dried herbs rather than lots of extra salt or sugar.
If cooking is getting difficult and you use ready meals, ensure they have some vegetables with them and try not to add extra salt.
If eating enough is difficult, see your GP who will prescribe some high calorie drinks such as Ensure Plus or Fortisip. These can be drunk cold or warmed, but can also be used to pour over cereal, used to make milk puddings and added to jellies or custards. One of these each day can really help to increase calorie intake (and count towards your drinking)
Useful hints and tips
- Ask your family or carers to leave drinks where you can reach them easily
- Make sure water or other cold drinks are refreshed regularly throughout the day so it tastes fresh
- Have small snacks left available so there are things to nibble during the day
- If possible eat fresh food rather than processed
- Keep an eye on the contents of your fridge and dispose of out of date food (contaminated or gone off food does not always look, smell or taste off)
- If cooking fresh meals, cook enough to freeze an extra portion or two
- Try to use the toilet regularly