Grocery shopping can become increasingly difficult as people age. Older adults tend to be less mobile and weaker than they once were. The experience of walking the aisles, reading the fine print on packages, reaching for items on top shelves and lugging bags of food home can be hard to handle on their own.
Beyond the physical demands, the abundance of food choices can be mind-boggling. A 2012 International Food and Information Council Foundation survey found more than half of consumers (52%) were confused about what to eat to be healthier; older consumers, aged 65-80, were among those most likely to be perplexed.
One way to reduce confusion is for an aging adult’s friends, family members or caregivers to shop with them or for them. It’s an opportunity to make educated suggestions about healthy choices for seniors. Seniors and their caregivers should also note that total food intake decreases as most of us age, so it’s important to choose nutrient dense foods for health management.
Start by reading food labels. Look for the label called “Nutrition Facts” on the side or back of a product’s package. It lists calorie information, ingredients and nutrition details to help you evaluate what’s in a product.
Some important facts to notice are the serving size and the number of calories listed for a single serving. Often, what seems like a small package may actually contain multiple servings. A 100-calorie choice might be two or three times the calories, if you consume the entire container.
Government guidelines ask food makers to prove certain health claims before putting words like fat-free or low-sodium on their products. But labeling regulations only go so far. Studies shows the words natural and organic get a favorable response from consumers. Organic has a regulated definition. Natural is more vague.
The USDA has rules for using the word “natural” on the labels of meat and poultry products. The FDA has not set a definition for other foods. Its website says “the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”
Another buzzword “gluten-free’ has been on food packages for several years. It’s important health information for people with celiac disease who must avoid gluten. However, the FDA only issued its definition for marketing products as “gluten-free” in August, 2013.
Food labeling isn’t perfect but it is a useful tool. It can help you steer seniors toward nutritious foods that taste good and are good for them.
The West Philadelphia Senior Community Center is committed to the health and well-being of its members. Located in a spacious, beautiful facility at 1016 N. 41st Street, at the corner of Poplar and 41st, and is fully outfitted with state-of the-art educational, recreational, and computer equipment. The Center’s landscaped, climate controlled, sky-lit atrium offers a beautiful, secure meeting place for year-round enjoyment of the company of friends and neighbors. The Center offers a daily lunch program plus a wide range of individual and group activities, classes, clubs, health and wellness services, educational programs, transportation assistance and much, much more.
The West Philadelphia Senior Community Center is funded by the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging and the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and administered by Lutheran Children and Family Service, a division of Liberty Lutheran.