At the risk of their health, senior men who live alone or serve as their wife’s caregiver often rely on the convenience of frozen and fast food. On the other hand, senior men who know how to cook are more likely to eat a well-balanced, healthful diet of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy products and whole grains.
The minutes that convenience foods save in the kitchen often are swallowed up by the ill health effects of the extra calories, fat and sodium they contain. They can exacerbate existing conditions and bring on new illnesses as we age.
About 50 percent of men who live alone are at high risk nutritionally, according to a study published in the August 2004 Journal of Nutrition for the Elderly. Titled “Men Can Cook! Development, Implementation, and Evaluation of a Senior Men’s Cooking Group,” the study by the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition at the University of Guelph, Ontario, focused on Evergreen Action Nutrition (EAN). EAN, a nutrition education program at a senior center in Guelph, aims to improve the nutritional status of seniors through food demonstrations and classes, including a men’s cooking group.
The group helped boost the participants’ confidence in the kitchen while promoting the benefits of healthful eating. At the same time, the men enjoyed the program’s social aspects. Program evaluations found that many of the men learned ways to replace fats and sodium in their diet with vegetables and fiber, and more than 90 percent of the men indicated that they planned to continue with the group.
It is estimated that as many as a third of American men over the age of 80 — more than 1 million people — face nutrition-related health concerns because of an inability to cook for themselves.
Many senior cooking programs—and home-delivered meal programs—are provided through local senior centers, health care providers and Area Agencies on Aging. Some in-home senior care providers, such as Comfort Keepers®, offer meal preparation and grocery shopping as part of their services. The Eldercare Locator – 1-800-677-1116 – can help you locate a wide variety of senior care resources near you.
The American Dietetic Association recommends that older men and women eat a well-balanced diet filled with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean animal and plant-based proteins, low-fat dairy products and heart-healthy fats.
The ADA offers this specific advice for nutrition for senior men:
- Eat three servings of calcium and vitamin D every day to help maintain strong and healthy bones. Calcium-rich foods include low-fat and fat-free dairy such as milk and yogurt, fortified cereals and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables and canned fish.
- Choose high fiber foods for heart health and to maintain normal bowel function. Men over 50 need 30 grams of fiber a day. Good sources include whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Another benefit of fiber: It keeps you full longer.
- Increase potassium and decrease sodium to lower the risk of high blood pressure. Get potassium from fruits, vegetables and low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt. Choose low-sodium foods and replace salt with savory herbs and spices to reduce sodium intake.
- Choose healthy fats and limit fat calories to 20 to 35 percent of your diet. Most of the fats you consume should come from heart-healthy unsaturated fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil, canola oil, walnuts, almonds and avocadoes. Healthy older men without heart disease should limit saturated fat (from meat, full-fat dairy and fried foods) to 10 percent of total fat calories. Men with high cholesterol should limit saturated fat to seven percent of total fat calories.