Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important at any stage of life. But it’s especially vital (and can be uniquely challenging) for the elderly.
As we age, our bodies and lives change in ways that are often unexpected. This can include changing dietary needs. Slower metabolism and less activity mean that many seniors don’t need to eat as much to feel energized throughout the day. At the same time, however, research has shown that older adults absorb and utilize nutrients less efficiently, meaning their nutrient requirements actually increase.
Simultaneously, chronic conditions and medications can also impact nutritional intake, and the loss of bone mass and body tissue that come with aging make nutrient density even more vital to a good quality of life.
Poor nutrition for seniors can lead to common effects such as deteriorating eyesight, digestion disorders, weight loss, weakened bones, joints and muscles, and immune system, cognitive decline and memory loss, heart conditions, anemia, vulnerability to bacterial infections, more frequent falls and hospitalizations, and more. On the other hand, seniors who are able to maintain proper nutrition may have an easier time regulating their blood sugar, managing their weight, and fighting off disease. A healthy diet also aids in better cognitive and digestive functioning.
Whether you are a family member or caregiver to a senior or are yourself an elderly person, it’s hard to deny the value of those benefits. But, amongst all of the other challenges that come with aging or caring for seniors, it isn’t always easy. Changes in home life, mobility, health, income, and medicine can all make good nutrition for seniors difficult.
March is National Nutrition Month, so let’s take a closer look at nutrition for seniors. To help ensure our beloved seniors enjoy the best quality of life possible in their golden years, this is what you need to know.
What Is The Healthiest Diet for Seniors?
Small changes to habits and routines can go a long way, and a little awareness can make a big difference. Generally speaking, seniors should focus on eating foods that pack in a lot of nutrients without too many extra calories.
Some good, nutrient-dense choices include:
- Fruits and vegetables, including bananas for potassium and vegetables rich in calcium, fiber, and folate (such as broccoli and dark, leafy greens)
- Whole grains, like oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, and brown rice, which are good sources of fiber and vitamin B6; you can also often find vitamins B6, B12, and folate in cereals with added vitamins
- Fat-free of low-fat milk and cheese, or soy or rice milk with added Vitamin D and calcium
- Seafood and lean meats, which are good sources of B12
- Poultry, eggs, beans
- Foods that are low in cholesterol and fat, especially saturated and trans fats, are ideal. Substitute olive oil for solid fats, like butter, and try full-fat yoghurt, nuts, seeds, avocados, cheese, dark chocolate, and fish like salmon, trout, herring and sardines as sources of healthy fats.
Seniors should avoid empty calories or foods that are low in nutrients, such as chips, candy, soda, baked goods, and alcohol. Remember to also look for foods that are low in sodium or salt.
Adding healthy snacks throughout the day can be a manageable way to increase nutrition for seniors. And, of course, one of the best sources of vitamin D isn’t food at all, but sunlight. So, if possible, get outside for some exercise!
Finally, the sense of thirst often weakens with age, and many seniors can forget to stay hydrated. So make sure to drink water regularly throughout the day, avoid drinks with salt or added sugars, or eat hydrating foods or low-sodium clear broth.
What are Some Solutions to Senior Nutrition Challenges?
Aging can make it difficult to maintain a healthy diet for a variety of reasons, and eating can become a stressful experience for seniors who struggle with physical, health, or cognitive issues, illness, loneliness or depression, or financial constraints.
To cut down on stress, keep things simple. MyPlate for Older Adults, from Tufts University, is a good place to start. This tool can help you find simple, attainable dietary tweaks that may be less overwhelming than a total diet overhaul.
If chewing and swallowing are a challenge, try softer foods, like mashed potatoes and cottage cheese, or try pureeing meals and serving with a straw. Additionally, drinking plenty of liquids with your meal can help get the food down (as well as providing extra hydration). If the problem persists, check in with a health care provider, as a dental problem, health condition, or medicine could be causing the issue.
Eating alone can be lonely, but organizing a neighborhood potluck meal, cooking with a friend, or eating meals at a nearby senior or community center, or religious facility, can help with social stimulation.
If budget is a concern, try browsing these SNAP-friendly recipes for all seasons, and make a shopping list before you venture to the store.
Nutrition for seniors can be difficult. Aging or caring for an aging loved one isn’t easy, and there’s no shame in needing some extra help. If you or your elderly loved one is struggling with healthy nutrition, our experts can help. We offer Care Management, Non-Medical Concierge, Counseling, and Financial Management Services, as well as other services that may make things easier for everyone involved.
Reach out to us to learn more. Whatever you need, we’re here.