Small Steps to Better Choices, Healthier Diet

— Written By and last updated by Nancy Power
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Healthy eating and good nutrition can improve your health and keep you functioning independently. Yet, only 25 percent of older adults eat a well-balanced diet. The southeastern U.S., in particular, has the highest rates of cardiovascular deaths, probably related at least partly to an unhealthy diet.

Many factors affect how we eat. For example, your sense of taste and smell may change as you age, making food less appetizing. Medications can decrease appetite and cause dry mouth, making it difficult to swallow. Dental problems can make it difficult or painful to chew, keeping you from eating healthy foods. Some people have trouble finding a ride to the store or may not have enough money for groceries.

Poor nutrition can increase your risk of getting infections and can increase your blood pressure and cholesterol. People who are malnourished make more visits to doctors, hospitals and emergency rooms, and they stay in the hospital twice as long as well-nourished people. Sometimes symptoms of poor nutrition, such as confusion and disorientation, can be mistaken for signs of dementia.

The good news is there are many ways to improve your diet. Small changes can make eating easier.

When you swap out the saltshaker for some herbs and spices, your salt intake decreases and the taste of your food improves. Adding some liquid to vegetables and cooking them until they’re tender, even mashing them, will make it easier if you have problems chewing and swallowing. There are ways to cut back on high-cost grocery items like meat while still getting enough protein and nutrition.

Interested in learning more about eating well and shopping smart? Better Choices, a Steps to Health program created for limited-resource audiences, might be just what you’re looking for. The free, eight-class series reviews ways to improve your overall diet while saving money. You will have many opportunities to taste new foods and receive easy, low-cost recipes to make at home.

Steps to Health is a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education, or SNAP-Ed, program developed and administered by North Carolina State University and federally funded through the USDA.

The Richmond County Cooperative Extension’s goal is to provide the residents of the community with research-based knowledge. For more information on food safety, wellness, and nutrition, contact the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, Cheri Bennett, at 910-997-8255.