Nutrition is a never-ending concern, since what you eat impacts the quality of your life whether you are a child, adult or senior. Food is vital to life. You know it is important to “eat right”, but as you age it can become harder to know which foods are good for you or your loved ones. Nutritional needs change for seniors. Even the taste, smell and texture of food can change, making it hard to eat for good health.
That doesn’t mean you can’t eat healthy in your golden years! Good nutrition can be delicious and satisfying. You might even find that the foods recommended for good health are ones you remember from your childhood, and will fill you with not only the fuel you need, but also give you those warm, nostalgic feelings that add to overall wellness.
3 Ways Nutritional Needs for Elderly Seniors Change
Good nutrition is the cornerstone of good health. Unfortunately, healthy eating habits can decline as you or your parent ages. Each year, one-third of American seniors admitted to the hospital will be suffering from some form of malnourishment. Malnourishment can often arise as a result of not understanding how your nutritional needs change as you age. Here are a few of the reasons why:
1. Loss of Smell
Seniors will often report a loss of taste and smell. 75% of people over the age of 80 report losing their sense of smell. Without smell, you also lose the majority of your taste sensation. Food becomes boring when you can’t taste it!
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about testing for a loss of smell if you find food bland and tasteless. A loss of smell can be treated to help allow you to enjoy your food once again.
Also, don’t be afraid to be heavy handed with the spices. Your taste and smell sensations can be tantalized by adding healthy and nutritious spices and herbs to almost any food. Unlike sugar, spices and herbs don’t add empty calories while increasing your enjoyment of food again.
2. Dental Issues
Changes in the health of the mouth can make chewing and swallowing difficult. If someone is suffering from dental pain, eating will seem like a chore instead of something to enjoy. Loss of teeth and gum disease can also make it impossible to chew meat. This makes it harder to meet protein requirements. As you age, you need more protein due to a decrease in stomach acid production, which inhibits the ability to absorb protein.
3. Digestive Needs
Your kidneys and lungs are responsible for maintaining a blood pH of 7.34-7.45. As you age, your kidney and lung function will decrease. It becomes more difficult for the body to neutralize the acids that a diet high in refined carbohydrates, meat and salt produces.
Research shows that seniors have less than half the intestinal bacteria that they had in their 30s and 40s. Providing your small intestine with more alkaline producing foods can protect your bones and muscles. Your large intestine needs to have a healthy colony of bacteria to digest your food and reward you with regular bowel movements.
6 Ways to Promote Proper Nutrition for Seniors
Eating for healthy longevity can be a simple and rewarding challenge. As you eat healthier foods, you will find your body feels stronger and you get more enjoyment out of life. If your aging loved one seems to be lacking the nutrition they need, try adding some of these foods to their diet:
1. Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
Mom was right. Eating fruits and vegetables is good for your health. Almost every diet will include a recommendation to eat more fruits and vegetables. They are like nature’s multivitamins.
Some of the most powerful sources of nutrition are fruits and berries such as:
- Goji berries
Make sure you find room on your plate for all types of fruits and veggies. The MIND diet reports that an increase in leafy greens improve brain health, lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, protect against heart disease, prevents strokes and decreases hip fractures.
Dr. Terry Wahls recommends eating 9 cups of fruits and vegetables a day, including:
- 3 cups of leafy greens like kale, collards, chard, spinach and lettuce.
- 3 cups of sulfur-rich veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, onions and brussel sprouts.
- 3 cups of the beautiful, colorful vegetables and fruits like berries, peaches, oranges, beets, carrots and peppers.
According to Dr. Wahls, this specific blend of fruits and vegetables will provide your body and brain with the 31 essential micronutrients for optimal functioning. A diet high in fruits and vegetables also provides high levels of vitamin C, will alkalize the small intestine and provide protection for muscles and bones.
2. Don’t Be Afraid of Fat
Did you know that all those healthy nutrients found in vegetables are better able to be absorbed when you eat them with healthy fat? That’s right! Your body needs fat to be healthy. Fats can make your brain more resilient and make less tasty foods more enjoyable to eat.
Some of the best fats to include in your diet are found in:
- Brazil nuts
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
Fats that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids protect your heart, help you maintain normal cholesterol levels and boost your brain health.
3. Embrace Healthy Bacteria
Just like fat isn’t necessarily bad for you, neither is gut bacteria. Eating foods that are fermented provide your intestines with strong and healthy bacteria to fight off the true invaders, like cold and flu viruses and infections. Probiotics (good bacteria) also help to digest your food and improve your mental health.
Fermented foods are high in flavor, which helps when your taste buds are tired. Try to include foods such as:
- Fresh dill pickles
If you aren’t used to fermented foods, start with small amounts. Soon your gut will thank you with better digestion and improved bowel function.
For probiotics to flourish they need to be matched with prebiotics. Prebiotics are foods that are high in fiber and feed the probiotics in your gut. Good sources of prebiotics include:
4. Beef Up Your Diet
Protein continues to be a foundation for healthy physical function. You might remember that reduced levels of stomach acid make it more difficult to absorb protein as you age. This makes it even more important to eat adequate amounts of protein each day to keep your muscles strong.
Promote a high protein diet for seniors with:
- Nut butters
- Cottage cheese
- Protein shakes
Although meat and nuts can become difficult to chew with dental issues, you can try slow cooking your meat in sauces to make it more tender or try adding a scoop of nut butter on a slice of toast.
5. Drink Your Water
Hydration is a serious issue for seniors and is a vital part of healthy nutrition in old age. As you age, it can become more difficult to feel cues of thirst and easier to forget to drink. Some helpful ways to reduce dehydration is to drink flavored water and to regularly enjoy foods that are naturally high in water, like soup and melons.
A pot of soup prepared with a generous helping of sulfur-containing veggies, leafy greens, carrots, onions and some slow cooked meats, served with a side of yogurt and berries would meet most of your nutritional needs in a day.
6. Eat Smaller Meals
Good nutrition is not about how much you eat but focuses more on the quality of food that you eat. As you age, most people will report a decreased appetite. This is a normal part of aging caused by a quieter life with fewer physical demands. Large meals can often be daunting. Instead, try to focus on small meals for seniors that also provide high nutritional value.
Aim to include a few of the healthy foods from this article in your meals each day. Even a small change can benefit you and promote good health. Home Care Assistance caregivers are trained in healthy nutrition and can help you or a loved one by preparing a diet rich in essential nutrients. They can even do the grocery shopping and meal preparation, making it even easier to eat for healthy longevity.
Learn about our senior care services here.