Senior Focus: Avoid the Tea and Toast Diet

Dangers of a Limited Diet

Tea and Toast Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Don’t Do As I Do

Ever since you were a kid, you were told to, “Eat your vegetables,” and, “Eat everything on your plate.” Why is it that as we age, we ignore the sage advice our parents gave us – advice we probably passed down to the next generation?

While we may put on a few pounds during our middle years, as we grow older, there are some seniors that tend to head in the opposite direction and dangerously so. They suddenly find themselves frail and weak.

Many of these seniors did so by neglecting their nutrition altogether and fall into what many nutritionists refer to as the ‘Tea and Toast’ lifestyle.

To Eat or Not to Eat

While tea and toast may not be a literal description of their complete diet, it’s a convenient phrase for encompassing the scope of the problem. As we age, fatigue can set in more quickly as we try and complete tasks that were almost mindless a decade earlier.

How many times have you gotten home after a day of running around and thought, “I’m just to tired to cook!”? That feeling happens to us more and more as we grow older and can be compounded by thoughts along the line of, “… and I’m not hungry enough to eat a full meal anyway.”

At this point, trying to satisfy that small hunger pang can be easily remedied with a warm drink like tea and munching on a piece of toast.
These are the basics of comfort food – warmth with a complex carbohydrate that helps you feel full.

You can see the appeal of it to seniors in much the same way it appeals to college students – a cheap and easy food combination that’s as appealing to seniors as fast food is to over-tired parents trying to feed their kids as quickly as possible.

Tea and Toast and Snowballs

The obvious problem with this quick-fix solution is that it is nearly completely void of nutrients that are vital to maintaining our health as we age. We put nothing of value on our plate and that’s exactly what we got in return. Given that no nutrients were consumed, the body never gets the vitamins and balance of fat, protein, and carbohydrates necessary for recovering from a stressful or eventful day. This can easily turn into a compounding, vicious cycle, putting more stress on a body that is probably already dealing with any number of age-related health concerns.

Hidden Challenges of Eating Right for Older Adults

Many of the dieting issues of the elderly are actually a direct result of their health issues. Can you read the label that tells you how to cook your microwave meal? For that matter, can you read the label that tells you the wattage of your microwave? If you have problems with your teeth, you have probably also lost the ability to enjoy some of your favorite foods. That can be a depressing feeling.

Older adults lose the metabolism of their youth so their hunger also becomes diminished. Likewise, they don’t have the sense of smell or taste of their youth so quite often, tasting food simply loses its appeal.

Taste also loses out when combined with medications. Not to mention all of those gastrointestinal… events… that can occur when we eat what used to be our favorite meals. Fear of embarrassment can lead to avoiding eating and enjoying time with others and that’s another easy way to lose your appetite.

Indeed, the joy of cooking may turn from a passion to a drudgery as we try and modify our diets to suit our taste buds and bodies, but it’s important that we ‘do’ work to educate ourselves about nutrient density and super foods. There is growing evidence that micro-nutrients – trace vitamins and minerals – are vital to our survival. These were more easily consumed when we were younger, grazed more often, and ate a larger variety of foods, so losing this, “meal model,” so to speak, means we also lose access to those vital nutrients. Empowering ourselves with the knowledge of nutrition – understanding the changes needed to be made to the diet of older adults – can help to combat the temptation of skipping meals with a pitiful slice of toast.

Start Breaking the Cycle With Healthy Choices

Pre-cooked chicken makes this healthy choice easy to fix

Pre-cooked chicken makes this healthy choice easy to fix

If you’re losing too much of yourself to the tea and toast battle, look to the grocery store for ready-made meals. You can usually find fresh pastas in the refrigerated produce section that take less than 10 minutes to cook. Add a microwavable bag of steamed vegetables with a little pasta sauce (which can also be found in the freezer section – avoiding the jar-opening issue) and you’ve probably got enough right there for 3 lunches. For protein, canned tuna fish (and other varieties) can now be found in sealed packages – much easier on the hands for opening and serving.

Just be careful not to make the mistake of drinking your meals… I’m not talking about alcohol here (a subject for another time), I’m talking about vitamin drinks like Ensure. Try using them as a snack and don’t use them as a meal replacement if at all possible, unless of course, you’ve been directed to do so by your doctor. Remember that we’re looking for diversity here. You’ll get sick of those drinks soon enough and will be back at square one.

It takes a little work and to some extent, thinking outside the box, but with a few modifications to your meal planning, you’ll have a healthier, more satisfying diet in the long run… and we all want you to be around for the long run.

For Further information, check out the Modified Pyramid for Older Adults by Tufts University