Healthy eating and a balanced diet are paramount in old age.
However, many older Americans suffer from poor nutrition, resulting in weight issues, muscle and bone weakness, and vulnerability to chronic diseases. That’s why we’re here to tell you all about healthy eating for seniors.
How Eating Habits Change With Age
Healthy eating, especially for seniors, is much more than just consuming nutritious food. As we age, various factors come into play that can influence our eating habits and nutritional requirements. Some of them include:
Adequate calorie consumption is an integral part of food consumption for most people. It’s crucial to ensure optimal calorie intake at all ages to maintain good health; old age is no exception.
However, increasing age typically leads to fewer physical movements caused by decreasing energy and muscle or joint issues. And the reduced mobility hampers the body’s ability to burn calories.
Aside from that, a reduction in muscle mass can deter the body’s metabolism, thereby affecting the calorie-burning process. Hence, excess calorie consumption can add to body weight, further reducing mobility and making the elderly susceptible to other diseases.
Loss Of Appetite
Loss of appetite during old age can happen for various reasons, including a loss of smell and taste. This isn’t necessarily a problem, especially since the elderly generally burn fewer calories.
But not eating according to the body’s requirements will invariably cause a lack of necessary nutrients required by the organs, bones, and muscles for proper function. Not only that, but eating less can also lead to malnutrition and many health issues.
It’s not unusual for the elderly to be affected by various chronic diseases, the most common being high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, and high cholesterol. And doctors often recommend dietary restrictions to manage these conditions, which change their overall eating habits.
For instance, seniors with diabetes, high BP, and cholesterol are recommended to cut down on calories, processed sugar, and fat. It may also be suggested to avoid sodium and trans fat altogether.
Moreover, certain prescribed medications to manage such diseases can also influence their eating habits. For example, people taking blood thinners like Warfarin should avoid consuming grapefruit, which can otherwise harm their body’s ability to metabolize the medicine.
At the same time, they should ensure an adequate intake of vitamin K compounds and incorporate plenty of green, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, etc., into their diets.
Another thing to note is that many seniors become sensitive to dairy products and spicy foods. So, it’s crucial to consult a doctor and determine the best diet plan according to the abovementioned factors.
Poor Immune System
Decreasing immunity with age can make people susceptible to many issues, including food-borne illnesses and food poisoning. Hence, it’s crucial to ensure proper hygiene and cooking techniques so they don’t consume anything harmful. This is one of the primary reasons many seniors give up raw food (like sushi and raw eggs).
Oral health conditions, especially infections or blisters resulting from ill-fitting dentures, can contribute to poor eating habits and even malnutrition.
What To Include In A Healthy Diet?
Although the exact nutrients will vastly vary from one person to another, here are some of the common compounds that contribute to a healthy diet for seniors:
Vitamins, Minerals, Protein, And Carbs
As stated above, elderly people should reduce their calorie intake to avoid unnecessary weight gain. As such, doctors often recommend limiting fried foods and artificially sweetened beverages.
However, they should ensure a steady intake of other essential nutrients, like protein, vitamins, minerals, carbs, and good fats. These are some of the food items that can help them with that:
- Nuts, seeds, and whole grains
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Lentils and beans
- Lean protein (from skinless chicken or turkey breast)
- Low-fat dairy products
Some seniors may have to rely on store-bought, ready-made meals. In such cases, we’d strongly recommend choosing the ones low in sugar, saturated fats, and salt and high in the nutrients mentioned above. These can include:
- Low-sodium canned veggies
- Unsweetened frozen fruits
- Precooked/grilled chicken or turkey
- No-sodium salad mix
- Unsweetened oatmeal
Keep in mind that some may not be able to consume these foods due to allergies or other medical conditions. In such cases, it’s crucial to consult a doctor and look into supplements. For instance, aging bodies may not metabolize vitamins D, B-12, calcium, and magnesium from food as efficiently, so consuming supplements may become necessary.
However, the supplements should not interfere with your senior loved one’s medications.
Fiber is an essential nutrient that helps maintain good digestive health and prevents problems like constipation, especially in the elderly.
Here are some fiber-rich food sources:
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Lentils and beans
- Green fruits and vegetables
- Oat bran and oats
Additionally, soluble fiber can contribute to the consumption and metabolism of good cholesterol.
Maintaining the right amount of fluid intake is necessary for all ages. Although seniors may not feel as thirsty as they should, ensuring adequate fluid intake is still necessary for proper bodily function. We’d advise drinking at least 8 ounces of water regularly and increasing fluid intake through fresh juices, tea, coffee, and water-rich fruits and vegetables.
With decreasing energy levels, preparing meals may seem like an arduous task for the elderly, who may skip them altogether. However, they can do a few things to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Firstly, socializing with friends and family, especially during mealtimes, can transform cooking and eating into a fun activity- something they can look forward to.
Those who’ve dealt with a recent loss of a spouse or family member can experience a decreased appetite due to depression and grief. Or, the deceased may have been responsible for cooking food, meaning they may not know how to cook for themselves.
In such situations, you must speak to a doctor or healthcare specialist to ensure a healthy and balanced diet for your senior loved one. If you or your loved one is struggling to acquire or maintain a healthy weight, please seek professional help and schedule a consultation with your provider.