From “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin to “Lollipop” by The Chordettes and “Jambalaya” by Fats Domino, Baby Boomers like their music almost as much as they like their food—or vice versa, depending on who you talk to.
Yet, the nutrition needs of Baby Boomers are changing. Older adults need different types of nutrients to meet the new demands set in place by a variety of age-related changes in the body. Decreased muscle mass, thinner skin and less stomach acid can make older adults prone to a host of health complications like weakened immune systems, lowered energy levels and chronic health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis. The problem of nutrition is especially challenging for caregivers when their loved one has dementia.
In all cases, a food diary is a helpful tool for caregivers to track their loved one’s daily dietary and drinking habits, as well as related variables like mood, activity and energy level.
A food diary is a helpful tool for caregivers to track their loved one’s daily dietary and drinking habits, as well as related variables like mood, activity and energy level.
Many doctors recommend the use of a food diary, and research shows food diaries can be used to identify older adults at risk of undernutrition and to monitor those on nutritional support. They can also be used for nutritional education and for achieving dietary goals.
Benefits of keeping a food diary
- Document changing dietary preferences
- Improve nutrition
- Weight control
- Mindful decision-making around food
- Identify food sensitivities
- Improve mood and energy
- Track dietary red flags
- Track water intake
What to track in your food diary
Experts recommend tracking the following variables in your food diary:
- Type and amount of food
- When and where your loved one ate
- Their mood, behavior and energy level before and after each meal or snack
- Their physical comfort/discomfort after each meal or snack
Experts strongly suggest you track the information as it occurs as opposed to relying on your memory.
Benefits of keeping a food diary when caregiving
Caregiving is hard enough as it is, and mealtimes can be the most difficult, especially if your loved one has dementia. A food diary can make mealtimes easier, can improve your loved one’s nutrition, and can improve their overall health and well-being in the following ways:
Document changing dietary preferences – Preferences for food will change as dementia progresses, so it’s helpful to have a food diary as a central place to keep track of these changes.
Improve nutrition – The ability to be able to identify gaps in micronutrients (i.e., vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (e.g., fiber, protein, etc.) is important to your loved one’s health and wellness. To better understand how much micro and macronutrients are in different types of food, access the USDA DRI tool to calculate your loved one’s daily nutrient recommendations based on the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) established by the National Academies of Medicine. The data represents the most current scientific knowledge on nutrient needs. Keep in mind your loved one’s requirements may be higher or lower than DRI recommendations, so it’s always good to double check with their physician. Also, click here for healthy eating tips for older adults 60 years and up from myplate.gov.
Your loved one’s requirements may be higher or lower than DRI recommendations, so it’s always good to double check with their physician.
Weight control – Research shows keeping a food diary is helpful for those trying to lose weight and also for those who need to gain weight. A food diary can help you determine how much your loved one is eating and identify ways you can increase their intake to support healthy weight gain. For example, if they need to gain muscle mass, it’s important they consume enough protein.
Mindful decision-making around food – Even though you may not be eating the food yourself, it’s still easy to become lax around the decisions you make about your loved one’s diet. A food diary makes the unconscious decisions more mindful and leads you to make more mindful meal choices.
Identify food sensitivities – When you document in a food diary the reactions your loved one has after they eat certain food types, it’s easier to narrow down the food sensitivity culprits than if you were to try to store the information in your head. Also, such documentation is immensely helpful to a health care professional, especially a nutritionist or gastroenterologist, should your loved one need to be seen by a specialist for their dietary sensitivities.
Documentation is immensely helpful to a health care professional should your loved one need to be seen by a specialist for their dietary sensitivities.
Improve mood and energy – Similarly, when you notice certain foods affect your loved one in a positive way (e.g., better mood or heightened energy), you can document this and repeat those choices in the future.
Track dietary red flags – Other health problems will often present as a decrease in appetite. For example, dental issues are often discovered only when the caregiver notices their loved one is not eating as much or that they’re losing weight. Certain gastrointestinal disorders may also present in the same manner. Tracking changes in diet and appetite can be an important way to make sure your loved one stays healthy.
Track water intake – The act of checking off eight (or more) boxes per day in your food diary – one for each glass of water your loved one drinks – goes a long way in keeping them hydrated and healthy. And then, if you take it a step further and also track how often they’re voiding in comparison to their fluid intake, you’ll really be able to catch any red flags in terms of problems with their kidney or urinary system.
Food diary apps
Create your own monthly food diary
Not much of an app person? No problem! Run several copies of the American Heart Association’s food diary template and or grab a notebook and draw a table similar to the one featured on familydoctor.org and begin filling in the boxes.