Every day, about 25 million people across the United States experience bladder leakage. Although incontinence has no cure, specific lifestyle changes can drastically improve the daily lives of those who experience it.

An often-overlooked key to a healthy bladder and managing incontinence is diet. What someone does or doesn’t eat and drink directly affects his or her bladder.

Senior living communities have the special opportunity to facilitate these key dietary changes for the residents they serve. Simple food and recipe swaps, as outlined below, are tasty ways to help improve bladder health.

1. Help residents stay hydrated

Hydration is one of the most important steps to improving bladder health, but unfortunately, it also is one of the most overlooked. To residents, it may seem counterintuitive that someone living with incontinence should drink more fluids, but reducing water intake actually can increase the incidence of incontinence. Drinking less water may initially decrease the need to urinate, but it ultimately increases the risk for urinary tract infections, which in turn increases the frequency to urinate.

2. Put more more (healthy) carbs on the menu

A diet full of foods high in whole grains such as oatmeal, whole grain breads, and cereal and brown rice will help keep bladder and bowel movements regular.

Recipe tip: Mix in fruits and nuts with oatmeal for a tasty, filling breakfast, full of whole grains.

3. Foster increased fiber intake

Eating more fiber-rich foods is one of the tastiest tips for promoting bladder health. Fiber is essential to combating overactive bladder and can be found in an array of foods, from beans to whole grain foods.

Recipe tip: Black beans are a great addition to almost any meal. Adding black beans to a chicken quesadilla, for instance, provides a meal packed with fiber – extra points for making it on a whole grain wrap. You also might try lentil pasta for your next spaghetti night; residents won’t even notice the difference!

4. Suggest eating more fruits but avoiding citrus

We’ve all heard that cranberries and cranberry juice are great for bladder health, but don’t forget about the other fruits and fruit juices that also help improve bladder function. Apples, bananas, berries and pears all are healthy, filling snacks that also are high in fiber.

Citrus fruits (and juices) such as oranges and pineapples are on the list of foods to avoid with an overactive bladder. These fruits are high in acid and have been known to cause bladder irritation. Tomatoes also are high in acidity and should be avoided.

Recipe tip: Smoothies are a great way to get a wide variety of nutrients into one tasty drink. Mix in a banana, berries, spinach, oats and a bit of apple juice for the ultimate bladder health smoothie.

5. Don’t forget veggies

Adding more vegetables to a diet is great for many reasons, one of which is improved bladder health. Vegetables such as kale and cauliflower are high in vitamin C and calcium to support kidney function, whereas corn and potatoes are high in magnesium, which help a bladder to completely empty.

6. Cut the caffeine

Foods and drinks high in caffeine often act as diuretics, encouraging the release of water in urine – meaning increased urges to urinate. Going cold turkey on caffeine can be rough, however. Residents can go for small changes at first by swapping out an afternoon coffee with herbal tea. They also should avoid all caffeine after 7 p.m.; doing so will help limit the need to get up at night to visit the bathroom.

7. Be mindful of dairy

Although vitamin D actually is great for bladder health, lactose is a pain point for many people. Food and drinks high in lactose can cause loose stool and may irritate the colon. Residents can opt for dairy-free alternatives high in vitamin D, such as eggs, almond milk and salmon.

Recipe tip: Have a recipe requiring milk? Swap whole milk for almond or soy milk. Residents won’t even notice the difference (but be sure to tell them). Vanilla almond milk also is great for adding extra flavor to oatmeal or whole grain cereal.

8. Cool it on spicy foods

Spicy foods may taste great, but as many of us have experienced, they often upset stomachs. As with caffeine, spicy foods irritate the lining of the bladder, increasing urges to use the bathroom.

Weight loss (where appropriate), one of the best ways to improve incontinence, also may be an added benefit to the food swaps listed above.

The bottom line

Millions of Americans suffer from incontinence, and many of them are older adults living in senior living communities. Incidence of incontinence can create more work for caregivers and nurses and require more cleaning supplies, briefs or pull-ups. Through strategic menu offerings, operators can help nip incontinence in the bud, saving time and resources for communities and residents.