Although it’s tempting this time of year to cook up comfort foods to enjoy while watching the winter Olympic games or some football, eating a diet high in sodium combined with a sedentary lifestyle can be a health risk for older adults. Recent studies have found that not only is a high sodium intake associated with a greater risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, but low physical activity combined with eating too much sodium is also linked to poorer cognitive health.
A nutritious diet includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts, and legumes as well as healthy fats like olive oil or avocado. Heavily processed foods often contain high levels of sodium that may make these convenient pantry items tasty, but also a health risk and detrimental to cognitive performance among older adults.
Middle-aged and older adults can still enjoy snacking during the big game, with a few healthier food swaps. Instead of chips and dips, fresh veggies and homemade guacamole are tasty alternatives. Small sweet potatoes loaded with black beans, low-fat cheese, avocado, and Pico de Gallo are a lighter version of loaded potato skins that will satisfy the comfort-food cravings.
Adding a little spicy seasoning can boost the flavor of low sodium meals, making them more palatable and harder for older adults to discern if some of the salt has been cut out. Researchers at Washington State University found that adding a spicy chipotle seasoning to a white sauce made it harder for seniors in a recent study to determine the amount of salt being used. Milder herbs and spices like basil, ground pepper, and garlic powder were not as effective at masking the lack of salt.
As people age, the ability to taste and smell may weaken and lead people to add more salt to their food, with can increase their risk for cardiovascular disease. Some medications and health conditions can also affect the sense of taste and smell. But by bumping up the spiciness of foods, a little at a time, rather than adding salt, older adults can enjoy their food more without increasing the risk for adverse health conditions.
Ready to spice up your game day chili? Here’s a recipe from EatingWell for Chipotle Chili using chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and no-salt-added tomatoes. Pro tip – rinsing the beans and hominy helps cut the sodium levels further while adding extra fiber.