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Senior Nutrition: Empty Calorie Foods to Avoid

By Dian Brannen, 8:00 am on

While often associated with vending machine items, carbonated beverages and fast food, empty calories can lurk in many of the foods your senior loved one eats throughout his or her day. If, as a caregiver, you’re trying to help your loved one maintain a healthy weight, it helps to know what “empty calorie” foods should be avoided and possible alternatives.

Defining ‘Empty Calorie Foods’

At Home Care Assistance of the Lehigh Valley, our caregivers strive to provide fresh, delicious and healthy meals to their clients, avoiding ‘empty calorie foods’. These types of foods have calories that come mostly from added sugars, preservatives and solid fats, and provide little or no nutritional value. A few examples of such foods include:

  • Saturated Fats – Foods with high amounts of saturated fats can elevate blood pressure and increase the risk of developing heart disease thanks to high amounts of unhealthy cholesterol. Butter, cream sauces, gravy with meat drippings, poultry with skin, and high-fat dairy products are all high in saturated fats and should be avoided or limited.
  • Trans Fats – When liquid oil is turned into a solid fat (hydrogenation), trans fats are produced. These fats act like saturated fats, also increasing blood pressure and raising bad cholesterol levels. Seniors should steer clear from processed snacks (crackers, chips), baked goods (cakes, muffins, cookies), shortening, and many fast food items such as french fries.
  • Sodium – As a general rule, older adults should limit their salt intake to roughly two-thirds of a teaspoon per day. Too much salt can elevate blood pressure and increase the risk of stroke and developing heart disease and kidney problems. Along with pretzels and potato chips, high amounts of sodium can be disguised in cured meats, pickles, frozen dinners, canned soups and canned fruits and vegetables.

Healthy Alternatives for Seniors

Family caregivers can encourage the following foods, which are healthy and packed with vitamins and nutrients for a more balanced diet:

  • Low-calorie substitutes (yogurt instead of ice cream)
  • Fruits for snacks
  • Whole grain muffins/breads
  • Recipes using canola oil (instead of vegetable oil)
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans)
  • Plain popcorn (without salt or butter)
  • Granola bars (instead of candy bars)
  • Soft margarine
  • Low-fat salad dressings
  • Fish (tuna, herring, salmon, sardines, mackerel)
  • Tofu (and other soybean products)

If your aging parent or loved one needs assistance with cooking and meal preparation or is having a difficult time following a doctor-recommended diet plan, consider help from one of the trained and experienced caregivers from Home Care Assistance of the Lehigh Valley. While we are recognized as the Lehigh Valley live-in care experts, we also provide flexible hourly care on an as-needed basis. Call us today at 484-350-3874 and schedule a complimentary, no-obligation consultation for more information.