Healthy meal planning is important for everyone but is essential for individuals in the later stages of life. These considerations almost always evoke the debate about whether people should eat meat. A better question may revolve around the types of meat you eat and how often. A balanced diet needs variety. This should always include plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and protein sources like meat. This article breaks down the benefits of eating meat, as well as a few downsides. It also explains the types of meat you should eat in a senior living community and those you might consider avoiding.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Eating Meat
In general, there are many health benefits to eating meat. Like any other food, the advantages must be weighed against any drawbacks. One of the biggest benefits of eating meat is that it is a fantastic source of “complete” proteins. A complete protein contains all nine essential amino acids the body needs for proper functioning. Amino acids are chemical “building blocks” that help your body repair muscles and bones. They also are central to producing and regulating different hormones and enzymes. Meat also can provide a great deal of nutrients for your body. These include iron, zinc, iodine, and essential fatty acids. These are important for myriad processes in your body. They include producing important hormones, supporting the immune system, and carrying oxygen throughout your body.
Meat also can contain a great deal of vitamins. These include B12, B6, thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin. Vitamins play a major role in glucose metabolism, nervous system function, and heart, muscle, skin, and brain health. One of the main downsides of eating meat is fat content–especially saturated fat. In moderation, this may not be an issue, but it could contribute to high cholesterol and increased risk of coronary heart disease and diabetes.
Types of Meat to Eat in a Senior Living Community (And Which to Avoid)
When it comes to eating healthy meat in a senior living community, there are many options. Each has its unique benefits and deficits. Here are the main categories to consider.
Fish is one of the best meats you can eat by almost any metric. It aids in various body functions, including helping your liver and improving the quality of your sleep. It can aid in weight management and, unlike other meat sources, can lower your risk of heart disease. Among other vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, fish contain loads of omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty acids are energy sources that keep the lungs, blood vessels, and immune system functioning properly. They help alleviate inflammation, including that associated with arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are in most fish sources, but a few are especially beneficial. These include salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, and oysters. Finally, eating fish can promote cognitive function by helping increase gray brain matter. This has been shown to help lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairments. That’s one reason fish is a staple for any memory care community.
In addition to the general health benefits of eating meat, chicken is especially high in vitamin B12, zinc, and iron. It also is rich in tryptophan, which is linked to higher levels of serotonin production. Serotonin is the “feel good” hormone produced in the brain. Options like chicken breasts (vs thighs or legs) provide less fat content relative to the protein and other benefits you receive. This option can help limit some of the negative health consequences of eating meat. Like every other item on this list, you should consider the source of your chicken when buying meat. Free-range and cage-free chicken will lack any growth hormones or antibiotics that could harm your health. They also will have a higher concentration of minerals and vitamins than animals raised in other poultry conditions.
One of the biggest benefits of seniors consuming red meat is the quality of protein it contains. Per volume, it is one of the best protein sources available, although the calorie-protein ratio is not as good as that of chicken or fish. The same goes for vitamins and nutrients. Beef, pork, and bison are extremely high in vitamin B12, iron, zone, and selenium. These can all help improve vision and immunity, including the ability to heal wounds.
Red meat should be consumed in moderation. This is due to the negative risks it can have, including those associated with high cholesterol and heart disease. Also, like with chicken, the source of red meat should be a huge factor in deciding whether to consume it. With the exception of processed meats (see below), red meat comes from three main sources. Conventional meat comes from “factory farms,” which often confine animals and feed them grain-based feeds. You should try to avoid this source, if possible. Grass-fed meat, which comes from animals that graze for their food, and organic meat, which refers to animals given only 100 percent organic food, are better sources.
Processed meats, including deli meat, can offer some of the benefits described above. However, these also have unique drawbacks you should consider. Processed foods, in general, contain large amounts of salt and preservatives. These ingredients are linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, pulmonary disease, and a higher incidence of bowel and stomach cancer. Limiting your intake of processed meats can help you avoid these negative health risks.
Learn More About Eating Meat and Other Food For Seniors
Now that you know the health advantages and risks of different meats, you can determine which are best for your diet. Discuss these dietary goals with your assisted living health or kitchen staff to ensure you get the most out of every meal. At Inspired Living, we are committed to creating healthy menus for our residents. We partner with nutritionists to ensure our residents get delicious meals that deliver the nutrition they need every day. Reach out to us to learn about our nutrition services and other amenities at our senior living community.