Proper Nutrition 40+

by Marie Truglio-Londrigan Ph.D., R.N.,C.S., GNP
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At times family members will find themselves providing very complex and demanding care to parents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and even their own children. It is common for the caregiver to find the situation overwhelming and very stressful particularly if their loved one requires increasing care as the days, months, and years go by. Sometimes caregivers lose site of one very important fact.

The caregiver cannot take care of their family member unless they take care of themselves first.

Caregivers are very important. They perform activities and provide support that is crucial to help their family member in many ways. These activities take time, energy, and frequently are very demanding physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially. Because of this it is very easy for caregivers to neglect themselves at a time when it is very important for them to make sure their own needs are being met. In order to stay healthy the caregiver must determine whether or not they are carrying out healthy life style activities. Maintaining healthy habits for a healthy life style include:

  • Right nutritional choices
  • Right sleeping patterns
  • Right stress reduction activities
  • Right exercise endeavors
  • Decisions to eliminate unhealthy habits such as smoking and limiting alcohol intake
  • Decisions to carry out safety measures such as wearing seatbelts, helmets when riding bikes, and home safety checks.

Eating right is very basic and extremely important when creating health lifestyle habits. The right nutritional choice ensures that the caregiver receives positive sources of energy so they can successfully balance the demands within their life. Proper nutrition depends on well-balanced meal planning. The wider the variety of foods within the diet the greater the chance that the caregiver will take in all the important nutrients necessary for maintaining health and preventing illness. Nutrients include some fats, proteins, simple and complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water.


Fats are needed in the caregiver’s diet but in small amounts. Fats are high in calories that do not give nutrients. Foods high in fat include eggs, butter, cream, oil, and fast foods. It is best to limit the amount of fat in the diet by making low fat foods, trimming excess fat from meats, and cutting back on portions when fatty foods are on the menu.

 Foods to Include in Diet

  • Poultry, fish, lean meats
  • Skim milk or 1% milk
  • Low fat cheese
  • Margarine
  • Canola, olive, or corn oil
  • Egg white

 Foods to Avoid in Diet

  • Fatty and organ meats, such as liver
  • Whole milk
  • Processed cheese
  • Butter
  • Coconut, palm oil
  • Egg yoke


Protein rich foods are very nutritious and provide a necessary source of energy for building body tissue and for growth, maintenance, and repair. Foods high in protein include meat, fish, and dairy products such as milk and cheese. Another source of protein includes dry peas, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds.

Grains provide a lot of nutrients without the fat and calories. Whole-grains products pack more vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber than products made from white flour.

Whole-grain products include:

  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Whole-grain cereals such as oatmeal and bran
  • Brown rice
  • Whole-grain pasta

Fiber provides roughage that keeps a person’s bowel movements regular and prevents constipation. Other fibers even help lower cholesterol levels.

Foods Containing Fiber Which Helps Lower Cholesterol

  • Nuts, seeds
  • Brown rice
  • Oat bran
  • Apples, oranges, grapefruit
  • Dried beans and peas

Foods Containing Fiber Which Helps Prevent Constipation

  • Wheat bran
  • Corn bran
  • Nuts
  • Whole-grain breads and cereals

 * It is very important to remember that if you are trying to increase fiber in your diet that you should talk to your doctor before making any changes. It is also important to make changes slowly and to drink water.


Carbohydrates are the main source of energy in the diet. There are both simple and complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are high in nutrients without the fat and calories and include whole-grain cereal, vegetables, rice, and pasta. Simple carbohydrates are syrups, honey, candy, and deserts. These are high in calories and lower in nutritional value.


Vitamins are important. They help the body work efficiently. Some examples of vitamins include the following:

  • Vitamin C helps the body fight infection
  • Vitamin A helps form and maintain healthy skin and hair
  • Vitamin K helps make substances for blood clotting
  • Vitamin B12 helps form red blood cells


Minerals help built body tissue and maintain important functions. Some examples of minerals include the following:

  • Calcium needed to build bones and teeth
  • Fluoride helps to form decay-resistant teeth and maintain bone strength
  • Iron is needed to form hemoglobin in the blood
  • Potassium helps muscles contract


Water intake is essential to maintain no matter how busy the caretaker is. Water composes 60% to 70% of the total body weight. Caregivers must find time to stop in their busy day and find time to drink up. Remember water alone is not the only fluid that counts. Juice, milk, soups, fruits, and Jello-O will do the job. Choose drinks with no caffeine. Caregivers are forever on the go. If this is the case bring along a refillable water bottle.


Even if the caregiver is aware of the importance of food variety it is sometimes difficult to plan nutritious meals. The time it takes to care for loved ones is often overwhelming and even if there is enough time the caregiver may feel exhausted with little energy to cook. Skipping meals is not the answer. Rather time saving tips may help.

Time Saving Tips

  • A sandwich of tuna with a glass of water or skim milk
  • Fruit nog made with fresh fruit and frozen yogurt
  • Baked potato
  • Oat meal with low fat milk and fruit
  • Toast spread with low-fat cottage cheese and crushed pineapple
  • Salads made with vegetables, low-fat cheese, and pieces of meat
  • Cook large portions and freeze or refrigerate portions for another day

Keeping Food Cost Low

  • Purchase low cost foods such as dried beans, rice, and pasta
  • Purchase store brand foods
  • Use coupons whenever possible
  • Find out if local community organizations, such as churches, offer food pantries for local residence
  • Purchase in bulk
  • Be aware of unit pricing
  • Take part in meal programs offered through Senior Citizen Programs
  • Buy in bulk, cook and freeze portions, or share with a friend or another family member

 Many times caregivers may be living on fixed incomes. This makes it particularly difficult when shopping for two individuals especially when the caregivers family member may have special dietary needs. Careful planning may help the caregiver make healthy diet choices that go a long way.

 Caregivers are responsible for caring for their loved ones and for themselves. This may sometimes seem impossible. Whenever life becomes too much to deal with call a friend or another family member. People do understand and sometimes they are looking for a way to help but feel helpless. Ask for help. There is always somewhere to turn.

Internet Resources

- Mayo Clinic Diet and Nutrition (weight and cholesterol tips, recipes and articles)
- American Dietetic Association (Nutritional resopurces, booklets, articles)
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (Nutrition Assistance Programs)
- -- Nutrition (aging, education, health lifestyles)

Reading List

- How Well Are You Eating? By David Feder Better Homes and Gardens Dec. 1999 v77 i12 p152
- Determine Your Nutritional Health (Guidelines for the elderly) USA Today Sept. 1999 v128 i2652 p9

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