Inspired Senior Living Takes the Guesswork Out of Good Nutrition (and Puts Full Flavor on the Menu!)

April 14, 2022

“Laughter radiates around the dinner table, where friends and family gather to nourish the body, mind and soul.”

— Joshua Brent, Director of Culinary Creations at The Variel

Do you know the difference between a macronutrient and a micronutrient? Or how much magnesium and vitamin D you should be getting each day? Most people don’t.

Good nutrition is important at all life stages. It also changes as we age. A person who is 35 has different nutritional requirements from someone who is 72. The truth is that paying attention to the food value of what we eat is even more crucial as we get older, for several reasons.

How do you know if you’re getting adequate nutrition? One option is to consult a dietitian or nutritionist. Another is to do your own research and make the effort to carefully plan what you eat. Or, you could simply try to make smart choices and not worry about it.

We’ll cover these concerns in this blog post and let you know how we’re taking a delicious approach to the nutritional needs of residents at The Variel.

Let’s Begin With Macro- vs. Micronutrients

If you’ve ever studied language, then you probably know that macro means large and micro means small. You might be wondering, though, how does that apply to nutrition?

The answer is actually pretty simple. Macronutrients are those your body needs in larger quantities to function at its best — such as protein, carbohydrates and fat. Water and fiber are typically considered macronutrients, too.

It follows, then, that micronutrients are those your body only needs in smaller amounts, including vitamins and minerals. Nonetheless, it’s still important to make sure you’re getting enough of them on a regular basis.

The best way to do that is to eat a good variety of food, avoiding overly processed foods and those that provide little or no nutrition. But even eating healthy food can be more challenging as we get older … and here’s why.

Potential Pitfalls to Good Nutrition in Older Adults

Aging brings physical changes, and sometimes changes in circumstances, as well. All of these changes can have an impact on our diet. This is only a partial list of obstacles that can interfere with good nutrition in seniors:

  • Slower metabolism (often the result of a more sedentary lifestyle)
  • Oral/dental issues that make it hard to chew
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in food preferences
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Diminished sense of taste and/or smell
  • Lack of access to fresh/high-quality food
  • Lower motivation or an inability to prepare meals
  • Physiological changes that lead to less efficient use of nutrients
  • Medications that prevent the body from making optimal use of nutrients
  • Chronic diseases, such as diabetes, which can reduce the amount of nutrients the body can absorb
  • Health conditions such as poor eyesight (unable to read food labels) and arthritis (can’t open food containers)

Given that many older adults eat less than they used to, and their body is less able to use the nutrients in the food they do eat, wise dietary choices are more important than ever.

Back to Macros

Of the specific macronutrients we mentioned earlier, we’ll focus mostly on fats, and omega-3 fatty acids in particular. First, a quick mention of the rest:

Water. Older adults have a diminished sense of thirst, and certain medications can increase the risk of dehydration. So, it’s best not to wait until you feel thirsty before reaching for a glass of water. By then, you’re most likely already dehydrated. Also, be sure to rehydrate after you’ve been exercising — particularly in a warm climate like Southern California!

Fiber. Dietary fiber can lower cholesterol, which can reduce the risk of heart disease. Good options for increasing fiber in your diet are beans, legumes, whole grains (like oatmeal, quinoa and wild rice), vegetables (think leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables), fresh and dried fruit, nuts and seeds.

Carbohydrates. Despite the popularity of low-carb diets, we need to consume carbohydrates. They’re our main source of energy. The goal is to get most of your carbohydrates from sources mentioned in the fiber section above. Those are mostly complex carbohydrates, which means it takes your body longer to digest them.

Simple carbohydrates, which are higher on the glycemic index, are found in less-healthy foods such as white rice and white pasta, most baked goods (especially those made with white flour), packaged snacks like potato chips, candy and sugary drinks. “Junk” foods might satisfy a craving and make you feel full, but they provide only empty calories.

Protein. While there’s some controversy over exactly how much protein older adults need, adequate protein intake can help preserve muscle mass and strength, as well as bone health. It may also make you less likely to lose functionality — your ability to do everyday tasks like getting out of bed and climbing stairs.

The good news is that you don’t have to consume massive amounts of food to make sure you’re getting enough protein. In fact, too much protein could lead to dehydration and be hard on your kidneys.

By spreading your protein intake throughout the day, your body will be able to make the best use of it. Aim to get most of your protein from plants, lean meats and/or low-fat dairy products. Protein supplement drinks generally are not recommended as a routine substitute for meals unless you have a health condition that prevents you from getting enough protein from other food.

Fats. For seniors, the main area of concern is inadequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Research suggests that getting enough omega-3 fatty acids may be useful in protecting against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cognitive decline, rheumatoid arthritis and other health conditions.

Eating certain seafood dishes a couple times a week can help ensure that you’re getting the omega-3 fatty acids your body needs. If you’re wondering what seafood is high in omega-3 fatty acids, focus on cold-water, fatty fish, such as:

  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Tuna

Shellfish, including crab, shrimp and oysters, are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids as well.

The Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health notes that omega-3s are also found in nuts and seeds, such as flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts. Plant oils, including flaxseed oil, soybean oil and canola oil, also contain omega-3 fatty acids. However, your body may not be able to use the omega-3s derived from plant sources as efficiently as those from seafood.

Key Vitamins and Minerals for Seniors

Surveys indicate that seniors do not get enough of several essential micronutrients, including magnesium and vitamins B6, B12, D and E.

Here are some of the best foods to include in your diet to address any inadequacies you may have:

Magnesium (Low levels can lead to a host of health problems, including numbness and tingling, muscle cramps and spasms, seizures, hypertension, loss of appetite, sleep problems, fatigue, anxiety, depression, calcification of the arteries, poor bone health and abnormal heart rhythm.)
Dark, leafy greens, legumes, dried beans, tofu, potatoes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, avocados, low-fat milk, yogurt, salmon, mackerel, halibut, bananas and dark chocolate

Vitamin B6 (Low levels are associated with cognitive decline and depression.)
Dark, leafy greens, yellowfin tuna, salmon, snapper, cod, chickpeas, lentils, carrots, asparagus, liver, beef, cottage cheese, bananas, cantaloupe, papayas, poultry and fortified cereals, yams, green peas, potatoes, avocados and whole grains, including wheat germ

Vitamin B12 (Low levels are associated with peripheral neuropathy, poor balance and cognitive issues, as well as increased risks of heart disease and loss of bone density.)
Beef, liver, kidneys, chicken, fish, shellfish, fortified cereals, low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs and fortified nutritional yeast

Vitamin D (Low levels are associated with weak muscles and bones, weight gain, depression, fatigue, inflammatory bowel disease, cognitive decline and an increased risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.)
Salmon, swordfish, tuna, herring, sardines, beef liver, egg yolks, cod liver oil, mushrooms and fortified foods such as cereals, milk and orange juice

Vitamin E (Low levels are associated with peripheral neuropathy, retinopathy, decreased immune function and an inability to control one’s body movements. Additionally, vitamin E has antioxidant properties that may protect against certain diseases.)
Sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts and peanut butter, avocado, asparagus, greens, including beet greens, collard greens, mustard greens, spinach and Swiss chard, red bell pepper, broccoli, butternut squash, mango, pumpkin and certain oils

Should You Supplement?

As a rule of thumb, food sources are a better means of getting the nutrients you need than dietary supplements. Eating a wide (and colorful) variety of food is best for optimal nutrition. If that’s not feasible, then talk to your doctor or a dietitian about whether you should add supplements to your diet.

Our Philosophy: Healthy, Yes. Bland, Definitely Not!

Joshua Brent is our Director of Culinary Creations. He develops the menus for all of our dining venues at The Variel, including our full-service restaurants and bistro café, as well as The Tavern and our Zenergy Fitness Center and Juice Bar, which offers nutritious smoothies, shakes and juice shots.

The philosophy behind Joshua’s menus is simple: Start with fresh, quality ingredients. Let people choose what they want to eat and prepare it in a manner they’re accustomed to.

“Cooking with scratch ingredients, and cooking conscientiously, allows the nutritional benefits from natural foods to power any diet,” Joshua said. “Here, our menus are created to entice the palate and provide the fundamental nutrients essential for the health of our residents.”

A Different Kind of Dining Experience

All of the menu selections at The Variel are Joshua’s own recipes. They’ve been vetted by a nutritionist, and the nutritional content for each is provided on the menu. So, residents know exactly how much of their daily dietary requirements they’re getting with every meal.

All food will be made to order, from scratch, and people can “build their own meals,” according to Joshua. That doesn’t just mean choosing which side dishes to order with an entrée. It also means, for instance, having a choice of which rubs and sauces are used in preparing an entrée.

“I don’t do batch cooking that’s going to sit around for several hours before someone eats it,” he said.

The menus will be rotated every five weeks for the restaurants and every four weeks for The Tavern, where tasty, intriguing tapas will be served. Joshua said that’s where he’ll “get creative.”

More About ‘Made to Order

Dining is personal, even in the company of friends, family and neighbors. Not only does each person have different nutritional needs. There are also individual preferences to consider.

Here at The Variel, we’ve created a way to tailor the dining experience for each and every resident. Everyone will have their own “profile” in our digital ordering system, with notations of dietary restrictions, food allergies and personal preferences.

This way, if someone orders a menu selection containing an ingredient that’s flagged on their profile, the server can immediately bring that to their attention. The selection can then be modified or a different choice can be made.

It’s a simple yet significant step we’ve taken to ensure that living in our community is convenient, carefree and extraordinary.

Healthy Living Is in Style at The Variel

There’s a lot of information about nutrition for seniors available online from trusted sources such as the National Institute on Aging. We hope the highlights we’ve provided in this blog post will encourage you to learn more.

If you’re interested in finding out more about inspired living, we invite you to contact us. As one of the newest retirement communities in California, The Variel offers upscale amenities and a lifestyle that is certain to exceed your expectations.

We’d love to chat with you and set up a time for you to visit one-on-one with a member of our team at the Discovery Center.