As individuals age and face mounting health issues – both new and old – they often receive dietary recommendations from both physicians and registered dieticians. Much of this information is nothing new to seniors and may even seem redundant, but with new health challenges or conditions that progressively worsen, these recommendations become more relevant and even a matter of life and death. While many people – young and old alike – are resistant to change, especially when it comes to eating, a few minor modifications can go a long way in improving overall health. With heart health this February, there is no time like the present to make some small changes to lead to a healthier life.

Start small by incorporating healthier food choices

In some cases, seniors have been eating poorly their entire lives, so it’s unreasonable to completely revamp eating habits in one fell swoop. It sets people up for failure. Instead, by making just three changes in the first month and additional small changes over time, the chance for success is much greater. Try swapping vegetable or canola oil for olive and grape seed oils, which are healthier sources of fat. When preparing food, aim for the healthiest method of cooking, like baking or roasting, rather than frying.

Another common area of concern is the lack of fruits and vegetables in senior diets. Incorporate at least one to two servings of fruits or veggies in each meal, replacing empty calorie foods (refined grain carbohydrates like chips, cakes, cookies, white bread, and white rice) with more nutrient-dense sources that add valuable vitamins and minerals to the diet. Choose leaner cuts of meat, such as a sirloin cut instead of prime rib, since it has less fat.

Additionally, if you tend to drink a few cups of coffee and/or tea each day, replace some of them with glasses of water. Since coffee and tea are diuretics, they cause our bodies to lose water, resulting in dehydration that is especially dangerous for seniors. Basically, the goal initially is to try to adopt some of these types of healthy eating habits most days. It’s perfectly fine to indulge from time to time to avoid feeling deprived, because a healthy diet should revolve around moderation rather than deprivation.

Adopt better eating habits

Diabetes and heart disease are two of the most common conditions that require a dietician’s attention. Both can be the result of a lifetime of poor eating habits, and though neither may fully disappear with a diet overhaul, healthy food choices and habits can have a positive impact on both conditions, and can be used as a tool to manage the diseases. Diabetics, for instance, must pay close attention to insulin levels and know how to count calories and carbohydrates. While a dietician can help, in the end it’s up to the individual to make the right decision at mealtime.

Salt plays a huge role in causing heart disease-related flare-ups, because many tend to underestimate their salt intake. Unfortunately, salt is in a surprising number of foods we eat, so a general rule of thumb is to cook at home as often as possible to enable control over salt content. Of course, because salt is in so many foods we eat, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed initially, but, again, drastic changes all at once aren’t necessary. Bread, for example, contains salt, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat it anymore. It simply pays off to be more mindful; aim to make small improvements over time and it’s possible your health condition will improve.

Scott Wine is a registered dietitian and home health liaison with VNA Healthtrends. He has been working in the medical field since his collegiate graduation in 2010.