Seniors and Nutrition
Why Proper Nutrition is Key to Healthy Aging
It’s common for our eating habits to change as we age. Consuming less calories is normal as our appetites begin to decrease. This is mainly due to the fact that the older we get the more our metabolisms slow down. Plus, usually our activity levels also decrease as we age.
The truth is your body simply requires fewer calories to function well as you continue to age. While it is normal to eat less, when meals are skipped and/or poor food choices are made, your overall health can suffer. This is a trend to avoid, especially as seniors' bones become brittle and falls become a larger risk.
One of the biggest myths surrounding senior nutrition is that all seniors will inevitably lose their appetites as they age. However, when a senior has no appetite at all, it is usually a sign of a more serious health problem.
Eating a well-balanced diet is key for many reasons, including:
- Helping sustain or even increase energy levels.
- Keeping all systems of the body functioning properly.
- Aiding digestion.
- Strengthening bones and teeth.
- Building and maintaining memory.
- Supporting a strong immune system.
- Preventing some lifestyle-related illnesses and diseases.
- Lowering the risk for chronic conditions like heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and more.
- Increasing mental capacity.
Proper nutrition is essential to stay healthy, active, and to enjoy a better quality of life. A great way to encourage healthy eating is to stick with meals you enjoy eating as your staples, and explore new recipes. You’re never too old to try a new food! And if you enjoy cooking, get involved with the meal preparation whenever possible.
Healthy Eating Tips for Seniors
Another senior nutrition myth is that as long as you are eating something, it's better than eating nothing at all. Seniors with healthy eating habits will live longer and be stronger than those with a poor diet. Another senior nutrition myth is that as long as you are eating something, it’s better than eating nothing at all.
Often seniors find that it’s too difficult or time-consuming to cook a meal, especially if they live on their own and mobility is limited. As a solution, they will turn to pre-packaged foods or frozen dinners. These types of foods are usually high in fat or sodium, and eating them can not only lead to health complications, but also to poor nutrition!
Here are a few tips to ensure you’re getting the proper nutrition you need, even when your appetite starts to decrease:
- Don’t increase portion size, increase nutrients. Because seniors’ appetites may be smaller than they used to be, it’s important not to get overwhelmed by a heaping plate of food. Instead, incorporate more nutrients, like spreading peanut butter on toast instead of butter or using milk in your hot cereal instead of water.
- Prepare healthy snacks. Try to avoid the convenience of prepackaged salty or sweet snacks. Instead, prepare healthy snacks ahead of time; chop up veggies or portion out whole grain crackers, nuts and fruits into plastic bags or containers. This way, when your stomach starts rumbling, you can easily satisfy it with something nutritious.
- Enjoy a meal with friends. Studies show that seniors who eat together tend to have better eating habits, as sometimes the thought of eating alone can decrease appetites. Social meals should be encouraged whenever possible.
- Don’t get stuck in a food rut. Don’t be afraid to incorporate some different foods or new flavors into your diet. Favorite recipes can be easily altered by adding different spices, sauces or marinades.
- Schedule regular mealtimes. Humans thrive on routine, so set a regular eating schedule and stick to it. Eating at the same time each day, even having a snack at the same time, will help increase appetite.
- Have a treat now and then. While you should avoid overindulging, allowing yourself a small treat every once in a while is a good way to keep your diet on track. Stick to 200-calorie treats like a piece of dark chocolate or a handful of pretzels to give yourself something to look forward to from time to time.