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Good nutrition is important in order that people live life to its fullest. Good nutrition is a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water in the foods we eat. A healthy diet helps to (1) provide energy; (2) build, repair, and maintain body tissues and (s) regulate body processes. 

When meals are eaten in the company of others, people not only benefit from the nutritious foods, but also enjoy the chance to socialize. This encourages good eating habits and promotes good mental health.

Nutrients listed on food labels:

The table that follows summarizes essential nutrients (which you may also finds listed on food labels) and their functions.

Adapting Meals for People with Dietary Restrictions:

If an individual is on a special diet (low salt, diabetic or low saturated fat), the Basic Four Food Groups Guide (which follows) can still be used. However, because diets are prescribed to control a specific medical condition, certain foods may have to be eliminated, modified in the preparation, or limited in their intake. 

It is important that caregivers obtain specific instructions from a registered dietitian or their doctor on which foods are allowed, how much, and how they should be prepared.

Since some foods or medications may interact with other medications and/or foods in a harmful way, check with the pharmacist as to restrictions in any medications' use before it is applied.

Nutrients on Food Labels and their Function

  • Protein: For preservation and repair of tissue; formation of antibodies to fight infection.
  • Carbohydrates: For energy; fiber to help prevent constipation.
  • Fat: For energy; healthy body and skin.
  • Vitamin A: For healthy eyes, skin, hair; resistance to infection.
  • Vitamin C: For healthy gums, skin; healing of wounds, bones; resisting infection.
  • Thiamin (B1): For digestion; healthy nervous system.
  • Riboflavin (B2): For healthy eyes, skin, mouth; use of oxygen from air.
  • Niacin: For healthy digestive tract and nervous system.
  • Calcium: For preservation and repair of bones, teeth; muscle contractions; blood clotting.
  • Iron: For building red blood cells to carry oxygen to all parts of the body.

To simplify daily meal planning, foods are grouped according to the nutrients they supply. Plan your diet to include the recommended number of servings from each group.

The Four Basic Food Groups

Meat Group: Provides protein, niacin, iron, and Thiamin-B1. 2 servings daily. Dry beans and peas, soy extenders, and nuts combined with animal or grain protein can be substituted for a serving of meat. 2 ounces of cooked, lean meat, fish or poultry have the same amount of poultry as: 2 eggs; 1 cup cooked dry beans, peas, or lentils; 4 tablespoons peanut butter; 1/2 cup cottage cheese.

Grain Group: Provides carbohydrates, Thiamin-B1, iron, and niacin. 4 servings daily. Whole grain, fortified, or enriched grain products are recommended. 1 adult serving is: 1 slice bread; 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal; 1/2 cup cooked cereal, pasta, cornmeal, rice or grits; 1 small muffin or biscuit, 5 saltines, 2 graham crackers.

Milk Group: Provides calcium, riboflavin-B2, and protein. 2 servings daily: Foods made from milk contribute part of the nutrients supplied by a serving of milk. 1 cup milk has the same amount of calcium as 1 cup yogurt, 1 and 1/2 slices (ounces) cheddar-type cheese, 1 and 3/4 cups ice cream, 2 cups cottage cheese.

Fruit-Vegetable Group: Provides vitamins A and C. 4 servings daily: Dark green leafy or orange vegetable and fruit are recommended 3 or 4 times weekly for vitamin A. Citrus fruit is recommended daily for vitamin C. 1 adult serving is: 1 cup raw fruit or vegetable, 1/2 cup cooked fruit or vegetable, 1 medium fruit, such as an apple or banana, 1/2 cup juice.

Common Problems Interfering with Good Nutrition

Illness, disability and depression can affect an older person's desire and ability to eat properly. The following suggestions deal with common problems that interfere with good nutrition.

When the care-receiver say the food tastes strange, it might help to:

  • Check teeth for tooth decay or gum infection,
  • Avoid alcohol,
  • Marinate meat, poultry and fish in sweet fruit juices, Italian dressing, or sweet or sour sauces,
  • Drink plenty of fluids or suck on candies to get rid of bad tastes,
  • Serve foods at room temperature or cold (Try milk-shakes or cheese),
  • Use stronger seasonings such as basil, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, lemon juice or mint when cooking,
  • Try new foods.
Cramps, Heartburn, Bloating:
  • Eat slowly,
  • Eat small meals frequently,
  • Avoid gas-forming foods, e.g., cabbage, onions, nuts, beer, cola drinks,
  • Avoid lounging immediately after eating; stand or sit upright for one hour after eating,
  • Avoid fried, greasy and heavily spiced foods,
  • Try bland, low-fat, easily digested foods,
  • Chilled antacid may help, HOWEVER, check with your doctor regarding the brand of antacid to use.
  • Take high-fiber foods and plenty of liquids,
  • Exercise,
  • Add bran when cooking or baking (1 - 2 tablespoons of bran for each cup of flour),
  • Drink hot beverages which act as stimulants.
  • Eat small meals frequently,
  • Drink clear liquids,
  • Avoid high fiber and greasy foods,
  • Replace fluid loss with liquids between meals.
Nausea, Vomiting
  • Avoid unpleasant odors,
  • Eat small meals frequently,
  • Chew slowly and thoroughly,
  • Sip cool, clear liquids between meals,
  • Rest after meals with head elevated,
  • Avoid hot, spicy, strong-smelling foods or fried, greasy foods,
  • Try foods which are cold or at room temperature, and low-fat food,
  • Eat dry or salty food,
  • Try fresh air and loose clothing.
Dry or Sore Mouth
  • Drink plenty of liquids,
  • Suck on ice chips,
  • Suck on popsicles made of milk or non-acid juices,
  • Dunk or soak foods in liquids,
  • Use extra gravies, sauces, salad dressing,
  • Rinse mouth frequently,
  • Suck hard candies or chew gum,
  • Eat sweet or tart foods if no sores in mouth,
  • Artificial saliva can be used.
General Tips for Helping the Older Person to Eat Well
  • Plan meals and snacks to include the person's favorite foods.
  • Use a variety of foods from each of the four food groups,
  • Prepare foods that provide a variety of texture, color, and temperature,
  • Provide a pleasant setting, i.e., flowers, place mats, matching dishes, good lighting.
In addition to books, recipes and literature, the organizations listed below are valuable in providing tips, ideas, counseling, and reminders that you are not alone. They can help make the gradual transition to improved eating habits: (Addresses listed were local San Diego. For same or counterparts in your locality check your telephone directories or contact United Way: American Heart Association; American Diabetes Association; American Cancer Society; Arthritis Foundation; Dietetic Association; United Ostomy Associates.)