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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Avoiding the 'tea & toast' syndrome as you age

Saturday, December 25, 2010

As people age, when their children have left home and sometimes their partner has passed away, they can slip into what I call the ‘tea and toast’ diet syndrome. Because there’s no-one else to cook for, and they’re not accustomed to cooking just for one, they gradually become more reliant on simple, carbohydrate-based meals. Problem is, this diet can sap energy levels and promote inflammation-based illnesses.

Some popular unhealthy ‘meals’ amongst single elderly people living alone are toast & jam, crackers and cheese, or tinned processed products. Many of them have a high glycaemic index. The glycemic index (GI) is a very useful tool for assessing the effect a particular food will have on your blood sugar level. High GI foods like white sugar are digested quickly, and will spike your blood glucose, potentially leading to a fast and uncomfortable reduction in your blood sugar level later. Low GI foods, like legumes, induce a gentle rise in your blood sugar level as they’re digested, helping keep your energy levels stable.

A group of scientists recently published the results of a study on the connection between a high GI diet and the likelihood of inflammatory diseases developing as they aged. There were over 2,000 participants with an average age of 49 at the start of the study. Over the next 13 years, the women who ate more high-GI foods were almost three times more likely to develop an inflammatory disease.

‘Inflammatory’ disorders are the kind that will inflict pain and hamper your mobility – like arthritis and gout.

Food preparation takes time, imagination and energy. If you’re living alone, it can be easy to skip meal planning, or preparing vegetables, and grab something ‘quick and easy’. Before long its become a habit, and you’ll notice your energy levels dropping as your nutritional status falls.

You can help keep your nutrition on track as you age:

-          Planning your meals for the week will help you see at a glance that you’re getting enough fruit & veg, protein and fibre. Need help? Download this healthy meal plan designed for a single person.

-          If you’re more likely to cook a proper meal when you have company, arrange with other single friends or neighbours to take turns in cooking and sharing a meal together.

-          When you cook a ‘proper’ meal, like a casserole, cook double and freeze the extra portion for a day when you don’t feel like cooking.

-          Don’t keep sugary, high GI foods like sweets, biscuits and cake in the pantry “just for the grandchildren”. You know you’ll eat them yourself – and they’re not going to do the grandchildren any good either.

-          Always have fresh fruit and nut butters on hand for whenever you feel like a quick snack.

What other strategies do you use to make sure you eat healthy when you live alone? Share them with us by leaving your comments below:

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