Proper Nutrition for Seniors

April 13, 2018

Photo by Anne-Sophie Benoit on Unsplash

 

We are what we eat. Well, at least our physical body is very significantly dependent on the nutrition we get, thus it’s only logical to put the highest quality food inside our bodies.

It’s true at any age – for the children, because childhood is when the healthy foundation is laid out for the rest of our life, adulthood – so that we can function at the height of our abilities, and older age – since we need to take especially good care of ourselves to delay the onset of health issues associated with the later period of life. Our nutritional needs change in a major way throughout our lives due to the different requirements of the body.

What are the special characteristics of proper nutrition for seniors?

A change in appetite is very typical of the older age. As the physical activity level usually goes down with age (although it doesn’t have to), so does the metabolism, and simply fewer calories are required to maintain the same energy level. However, an abrupt loss of appetite (as well as weight loss) may be a sign of serious health issues and requires a consultation with a medical specialist.

  • Skipping meals isn’t recommended, because regularity of food intake is important for the immune system and the gastrointestinal tract. A good way to encourage healthy eating is to arrange meals with others – family members, friends, or, in case of senior communities, other community members.
  • Decreasing portion size slightly may be part of the answer, but it should go hand in hand with increasing the nutrient saturation of each meal. Adding cheese to your omelet is a great way to increase the amount of calcium in your diet, while adding chia seeds to oatmeal provides an additional source of fiber.
  • Food guidelines are a good place to start, but they need to be revised in order to make sure that there’s no harmful interaction with the medications. Another point is that seniors may require less of certain nutrients and more of others, such as calcium, potassium, folic acid, vitamins D, B6 and B12, which should be taken into account.
  • Excessive fat, sugar and salt intake is inappropriate for seniors even more than for other age groups, regardless of the presence of weight issues. These foods still affect health in an adverse manner, which does not necessarily include weight gain. The gastrointestinal tract, heart, liver and vascular system remain under fire. High cholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis and high blood pressure can be managed to a certain extent with proper nutrition, so why not take advantage of this opportunity that may allow us to avoid doctor’s visits and life-long dependence on medication?
  • As unlikely as this sounds, malnutrition is still a problem in developed countries, and the United States is not an exception. Seniors, especially the ones who live alone, are often in a difficult financial predicament, where plain survival is in question, and proper nutrition is close to the end of the list of livelihood priorities. Healthy foods are often more expensive than calorie-rich unhealthy choices, and, unfortunately, the combination of overweight and malnourished is not a rarity.

Basic guidelines for proper senior nutrition are as follows:

  • High-fiber foods should constitute the foundation of the diet;
  • Fresh or steamed fruits and vegetables are indispensable, don’t forget various greens and citrus fruits;
  • Go easy on the salt, substitute herbs and spices to enhance flavor;
  • Choose lean meats and low-fat dairy products.

These are, once again, very general guidelines that may require some adjustment in accordance with your health condition, but if they are a place to start and analyze your nutritional habits. There is definitely a way to stay healthy (and even get healthier) and enjoy your meals at any age.

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