Health Benefits of Whole Grains

As we age, we should look for ways to protect our overall health and prevent the onset of illness and disease. Eating a balanced diet can help us age healthfully and stay independent for longer. Adding whole grains to our diets can help prevent some diseases and other conditions common among older adults. The health benefits of whole grains come from built-in protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium. In short, whole grains are packed with health-enhancing nutrients.
Diets that include the recommended amount of whole grains have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and even some forms of cancer. Whole grains are also important for maintaining colon health by promoting healthy bacteria in the colon and regular bowel movements. Dietary Guidelines recommend that total fiber intake for adults older than 51 should be at least 28 grams per day for men and 22 grams for women. However, the average American falls short of this recommendation, missing out on the important health benefits of whole grains.

What Are Whole Grains, Anyway?
Some of the most common varieties of grains are corn, rice, and wheat, all of which are commonly referred to as cereals. Some seeds of these non-grass plants are also considered grains, such as buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth. Whole-grain kernels contain three essential parts that offer unique health benefits:
The Bran. The outer layer of a whole-grain kernel is called the bran, which supplies nutrients like B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Bran and fiber are also responsible for slowing the breakdown of starch into glucose which prevents our blood sugar from spiking.
The Germ. This part of the whole-grain kernel is responsible for seed growth and contains healthy fats and fiber.
The Endosperm. This is the inner layer of the whole grain that contains nutrients including carbohydrates, proteins, B vitamins, and minerals.
Whole-grain foods contain all three parts mentioned above and can come whole or in their flour form while retaining all naturally occurring nutrients. Other grains like refined grains and enriched grains contain some parts of whole grains, but not all three elements. Refined grains have had the germ and bran removed, while enriched grains have some vitamins added back in, but don’t contain all nutritious properties. To reap the health benefits of whole grains, it’s important to choose them in their whole form. According to the Mayo Clinic, some common forms of whole grains include barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, oatmeal, popcorn, and whole-wheat bread, pasta, and crackers.

Health Benefits of Whole Grains
Why is whole grain better? Adding whole grains to your diet can help improve your overall health in several ways. As researchers continue to study the health benefits of whole grains, experts agree they can affect our health in the following ways:
Lower risk of heart disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and older adults above the age of 65 are more likely to develop heart disease than younger adults. One study review found that adults who consumed 28 grams of fiber each day reduced their risk of heart disease by 22%. Heart-healthy diets also call for whole-grain foods while avoiding refined grains which don’t contain as many nutrients.
Reduce the risk of obesity
Fiber-dense foods can help prevent overeating and are recommended for folks who struggle with maintaining a healthy weight. Foods high in fiber are more filling and a healthy option for those who are at risk of obesity.
Aid with digestion
Fiber works to add bulk to stools and can help those who struggle with constipation. Fiber-rich foods also help healthy bacteria grow in the colon, which is especially important in maintaining digestive health.
Reduce inflammation
Inflammation is a key factor in many chronic diseases and conditions. However, eating whole grains can help lower the risk of inflammation in the body. One study, in particular, reported that participants who replaced refined wheat products with whole wheat products saw a reduction in inflammation.
Protect teeth and gums
Gum disease is often linked with other health conditions such as inflammation and heart disease. While visiting the dentist and practicing proper oral hygiene can help reduce the risk of gum disease, consuming whole grains can help too. A study found that consuming high-fiber foods, such as whole grains, can reduce the risk of developing gum disease, especially in older adults.

Adding Whole Grains into Your Diet
If consuming whole-grain foods isn’t part of your current diet, it might take some time to adjust. However, adding in more whole grains and experimenting with different flavors can be a fun experience. Here are a few ways to get started:
There are so many whole-grain options that can replace traditional refined grain foods. Bagels, cereals, bread, and crackers all come in whole grain form and have much higher rates of nutrients and health benefits. Try swapping your regular bread or cereal for a whole-grain option.
Adding whole grains to your regular baking recipes for cakes, pastries, and pies is a great way to sneak in additional nutrition to something you love. Swap half of the all-purpose flour for whole-meal flour or whole-grain oats.
If you usually consume white rice and pasta, try using a whole-grain option such as brown rice or whole-wheat pasta. You can use your favorite recipes and still enjoy all the additional health benefits of whole grains.
The easiest way to add whole grains into your diet is to snack on them. Air-popped popcorn and stone-ground corn tortillas are packed with fiber and can help keep you feeling full.

Living Well at Maplewood Senior Living
Aging well can take a team. Our highly trained chefs and foodservice teams design nutritious dining options that keep our residents feeling their best while enjoying every meal. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

Heart Health Tips for Seniors

Aside from your brain, your heart is one of the most important organs in your body. The heart is a large muscle that pumps blood into our bodies. The right-side pumps blood to the lungs and the left side receives blood from the lungs and redistributes it through the arteries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States and the statistics don’t vary much between race or ethnic groups. For older adults, maintaining heart health is the key to living a long and healthy life.

Age-Related Changes in the Heart

As we age, our bodies go through physical changes, many of which are obvious, such as the appearance of wrinkles or changes in mobility. However, some changes, like those in our heart, go unrecognized. Aging can cause changes within the heart and blood vessels that can put older adults more at risk of developing various heart conditions Increased stiffness in large arteries can lead to high blood pressure. Other changes, like those within our body’s electrical system, can cause arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeat. As we age, the chambers of the heart can increase in size, causing the heart wall to thicken and develop heart rhythm problems, such as atrial fibrillation. Fatty deposits can build up in the walls of our arteries over many years, which can ultimately lead to heart disease.

Types of Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease encompasses a wide variety of conditions and diseases that can affect our heart function and overall quality of life. While there are many types of heart conditions, here are a few of the most common among older adults:

Coronary artery disease (CAD)

This type of cardiovascular disease occurs when the coronary arteries harden and narrow, causing blockages in the vessels that provide blood to the heart. The development of CAD happens over time and can eventually restrict blood to the heart completely. This can cause a heart attack, stroke, and other heart-related diseases.

Heart attack

Heart attacks usually occur when blood is severely restricted to the heart or completely blocked off, as in the case of coronary artery disease. However, heart attacks can also occur when substances, like fat, cholesterol, and plaque, build up and restricts access to blood to the heart. Heart attacks can result in permanent damage or death to part of the heart muscle.

Arrhythmia

This occurs when the heart develops an irregular rate of rhythm. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly, causing blood to pump ineffectively to the lungs, brain, and other organs. If an arrhythmia goes untreated, it can cause damage to the organs.

Heart failure

Heart failure occurs when the heart’s ability to pump blood becomes weakened. Blood will eventually move throughout the body at a slower rate, increasing pressure in the heart and reducing the amount of blood and oxygen in the body’s cells.

Cardiomyopathy

This is a progressive disease that causes the heart to become enlarged and thickened, limiting the heart’s ability to pump blood. Cardiomyopathy can cause other heart conditions such as heart failure or arrhythmias.

Signs of Heart Disease

Early heart disease doesn’t normally show symptoms, that’s why visiting your doctor annually is so important. Chest pain and heart attack are usually the first signs of progressing heart disease. According to the National Institute on Aging, here are some of the most common symptoms of heart disease and heart attack:

• Chest pain or discomfort that doesn’t subside
• Pain and discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
• Weakness, light-headedness, and nausea
• Shortness of breath when active, at rest, or while lying flat
• Dizziness
• Confusion
• Cold sweats
• Tiredness or fatigue
• Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach, or neck
• Reduced ability to exercise
• Problems doing normal activities

If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to contact your health care provider right away.

Tips for Preventing Heart Disease

While genetics can play a role in the development of heart disease, some factors can be controlled to help reduce the risk of the disease. Simple lifestyle changes, such as eating healthy and exercising consistently, can help prevent heart disease. If you’re wondering how to keep your heart healthy, here are a few simple ways:

Control portion sizes.
Eating more than you need can contribute to obesity, which is a key risk factor for heart disease. If you struggle with overeating, you might consider using a small plate or bowl to help you control your portions. Stick with high volume, low calorie, and nutrient-rich foods to help you stay full and maintain your weight.

Eat more fruits and vegetables.

Consuming a proper amount of fruits and vegetables with each meal can help prevent cardiovascular disease. Also, eating more fruits and vegetables can help you cut back on high-calorie foods. Keep fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables on hand so they are available for quick snacks and meals. Smoothies, soups, and salads are great ways to pack in servings of vegetables and fruits.

Eat whole grains.

Whole-grain foods are great sources of fiber and help regulate blood pressure and maintain heart health. You can easily add whole grains into your diet by swapping white bread for whole-grain bread and pasta. Brown rice, barley, and buckwheat are also whole-grain foods that are great for heart health.

Reduce sodium.

Consuming a lot of sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Canned vegetables and processed foods are usually high in sodium. Instead, you might consider buying low-sodium options and making foods at home. Try salt-free seasoning blends, herbs and spices, and reduced salt versions of condiments.

Exercise.
Physical activity is extremely important when it comes to protecting your heart. Just 30 minutes of activity each day will strengthen your heart and help maintain proper heart function start with activities you enjoy such as walking, dancing, bicycling, or gardening.

Quit smoking.
While smoking is dangerous by itself, it can also damage artery walls in your heart. Quitting can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer over time.

Manage stress.
Long-term stress puts pressure on the heart and can lead to high blood pressure. It’s important to learn how to manage stress and put relaxation techniques into practice. Yoga, breathing exercises, and tai chi can help manage your stress and allow you to relax, taking the pressure off your heart.

Maintaining Heart Health at Maplewood Senior Living

At Maplewood Senior Living, we know the important role heart health plays in living a long and happy life. Heart-healthy habits are instilled in each element of living in our Maplewood communities. From our experienced team of chefs to exercise offerings and stress management activities, our goal is to keep our residents healthy and happy. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.