While our bodies go through changes with aging, the necessity for proper nutrition becomes even more critical. Seniors who are malnourished are predisposed to illnesses, anemia, hospitalizations, and much more. It’s estimated that as a nation, we spend over $150 billion annually in medical costs arising from elderly malnourishment.
Having a truly balanced meal on the table every day, let alone three, can be a challenge for all of us. It’s even more problematic with all the other tasks of caregiving, particularly if your loved one has special dietary needs.
But meals are your body’s fuel, and part of your medicine, too. For a senior with a long-term debilitating illness, good nutrition takes on even more significance. And healthy eating doesn’t only concern calorie counting and scouring food labels. Meals also represent a time for connection, and good food is one of life’s uncomplicated pleasures — at any age.
Age-related changes can influence how your body processes food, which impacts your dietary requirements and affects your appetite. THESE ARE SOME OF THE CHANGES:
Difficulty Absorbing Nutrients
Your body produces less of the digestive juices that it requires to process food in your digestive system as your age advances. These changes can make it tough for your body to absorb essential nutrients like folic acid, vitamins B6, 12 and iron.
This occurs naturally, but it occurs at a much faster pace if you don’t get as much exercise as you should. As your metabolism slows down, your body doesn't burn as many calories, which means you should eat less to maintain a healthy weight. Also, since the intake is lowered, the foods you eat should be as nutrient-rich as possible.
Emotional Health Affecting Your Consumption
Seniors who suffer from marginal depression symptoms or are lonely, frequently lose interest in eating. Alternatively, emotional issues may cause some seniors to eat more and gain undesirable pounds.
Medication Side-Effects and Appetite
Most of the seniors take one or more medications for chronic medical conditions; these can cause side effects, for instance, stomach upset or a lack of appetite, leading to poor nutrition.
Healthy Eating Options for Seniors
A healthy diet packed with essential nutrients can help ward off potential health issues that are prevalent in senior citizens, like heart problems, constipation, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Nutritious foods also play a role in maintaining a healthy weight and can work wonders for your energy levels.
Even if you never tried a nutrition-based diet previously, healthy eating isn’t that demanding. The National Institute on Aging suggests the following options for seniors:
The DASH Diet
The DASH eating plan encompasses all the key food groups but is crafted to help regulate blood pressure and underlines foods that are heart healthy. These are endorsed in daily serving amounts:
Meat and beans: 6 ounces or less of meat, chicken, and fish, as well as, 4 to 5 servings of nuts, seeds, and/or dried beans every week
Milk: 2 to 3 cups
Grains: 7 to 8 ounces
Fruit: 2 to 3 cups
Vegetables: 2 to 3 cups
Oils: 2 teaspoons
The USDA Food Guide MyPlate Plan
This plan provides tips for building a healthy, balanced diet, inclusive of:
Make half your plate vegetables and fruits.
Enjoy your food, but consume in controlled amounts.
Make at least ½ of your grains, whole grains.
Tips to Boost Nutritional Health with Advancing Age
Healthy Fats Only
Choose healthy fats found in seeds, avocados, nuts, fatty fish, and vegetable oils instead of saturated fats and trans fats.
Choose Brown Over White
This nutrient- and fiber-rich foods will help your digestive tract and protect your heart. Select whole grain cereals, brown rice, and whole wheat bread instead of refined grains and white bread.
“Rough Up” Your Meals
Consume high-fiber foods each day, for instance, raw fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. These foods act as stool-softeners and prevent constipation; provide the vitamins, fiber, minerals, and nutrients that you need for healthy aging; help maintain your weight, and reduce your risk of heart problems.
Consume Calcium Critically
Everyone requires calcium to build and retain bone matter, but seniors should really bone up on calcium-rich products like low-fat dairy products. A calcium supplement, typically paired with vitamin D — its partner in the bone-building — is what you need to look for.
Keep your Memory Working with B12
As a senior, you need to look for foods, like cereals, that are fortified with vitamin B12. Since your body now has decreased the ability to absorb B12, diet and supplements can ensure that you meet your optimal requirements.
Now that you understand nutritional needs for your aging body, it’s time to make the necessary changes and a real commitment to your advancing age and health. It's fine to begin gradually: Swapping junk foods for healthier options is a decent first step. But try to make changes every single day that will bring you closer to your goal of a healthy diet and a healthy life.
Oxford HealthCare is proud to choose and make healthy meals for seniors during our home visits. We can work with any dietary need. Ask us how during your assessment.