Aging Well – Nutrition For Seniors, Spice It Up, Don’t Bland It Down

Tuesday, September 13, 2011
By Mr. Noah Kaminer, Administrator

Eating well is important at any age. But for seniors, it is even more important since a well balanced diet is crucial to other aspects of their lives. The benefits of healthy eating include increased mental acuteness, resistance to illness and disease, higher energy levels, a more robust immune system, faster recuperation times, and better management of chronic health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

As a person ages, the body’s metabolism decreases, it doesn’t absorb all nutrients, a slower digestion may decrease one’s appetite, and there may be a change to taste and smell.  Seniors therefore need to make an extra concerted effort to eat a well balanced diet.  While every senior’s diet will differ, there are several basic fundamental ingredients that should be included in their meals.

  • Fruits and vegetables – The more colorful, the better.  The darker the red, the deeper the green, the more yellow, the more orange, the more loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. Since the digestive system is slower, high fiber fruits and vegetables are extra important.
  • Dairy — Aging bone health depends on adequate calcium intake to prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures. Seniors need 1,200 mg of calcium a day and dairy products have high quantity of calcium and are also a great source of vitamin D.
  • Whole grains — A good source of vitamin B, whole grains are also loaded with fiber which can protect against cardiovascular disease, infections, and respiratory ailments.  There’s a variety of whole grains to choose from — whole wheat, quinoa, oatmeal, kasha, barley, rice or corn.
  • Meat or Chicken — Lean meats, skinless chicken, and turkey breasts supply protein and vitamin B-12 without heart-clogging fats. Red meat can also ward off anemia caused by certain medications or poor absorption of nutrients, common in people over 50.
  • Fish — Oily fish like salmon provide an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight bad cholesterol, improve focus, and decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s.
  • Water — The “forgotten nutrient.”  Seniors are more prone to dehydration because their bodies lose some ability to regulate fluids and their sense of thirst is dulled.  Sipping water every hour and with meals will help avoid dehydration, urinary tract infections, constipation, and possibly confusion.

Whether it’s because of physical limitations or financial hardships, many seniors don’t eat as well as they should. Arthritis can make cooking difficult, while certain medications can reduce an appetite.  Or, the senior may simply forget to eat, may suffer from depression and loneliness, or have dental problems that make eating difficult.  Whatever the reason, there are plenty of practical tips to ensure that a senior has a healthy diet and gets the proper nutrition needed as they age.

  • Enhance aromas and flavors — Appealing foods may help stimulate appetites, especially in someone whose senses of taste and smell are diminished.  Spice it up for seniors by intensify flavors with spices, marinades, dressings and sauces.
  • Make eating social — Many seniors living alone suffer from depression.  They may stop cooking meals, lose their appetites, and depend on convenience foods. Make meals social by bringing over a hot meal or inviting them for dinner.
  • Encourage healthy snacking— Many seniors don’t like large meals or don’t feel hungry enough to eat three full meals a day.  Plan several mini-meals throughout the day that are nutritionally-dense with fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Take care of dental problems — Maintaining proper oral health can enhance nutrition and appetite. Make sure dentures fit and problems like cavities and jaw pain are properly managed.
  • Use government programs — Home-delivered meals, adult daycare, door-to-door transportation, and financial assistance programs are available from the Office of Aging to those over 60 who need help and qualify.
  • Take them to the grocery —  Or, order groceries for them and have it delivered.
  • Give reminders — If poor memory interferes with good nutrition, schedule meals for the same time each day and set visual and verbal reminders about when it’s time to eat.
  • Maintain food stocks — Keep extra food on-hand in case of emergencies. Seniors living alone should keep canned and non-perishable foods at home in case weather or health problems make it difficult to go shopping.