Healthy Eating for Seniors
As we age, we change. We slow down and gravity starts to win. Muscles weaken, bones lose density, teeth loosen and fat accumulates. Exercise and staying active help to maintain the body, but you need to make some other life changes as well.
Your diet needs to change because your digestive system is changing as well. Your gut becomes sluggish and constipation can be a real problem, but that is not the only concern. Malnutrition is common in the elderly, even in active, independent seniors. Why?
Causes for Malnutrition
- Decreased ability to smell – Loss of the sense of smell affects the appetite negatively. You are less likely to become hungry because you cannot sniff the enticing aromas.
- Decreased sense of taste – If the food tastes like cardboard, you’re not going to enjoy it.
- Tooth decay and loss – An ability to chew means the food has to be soft, losing its texture and appeal.
- Inability to see or hear as well – This makes it harder to cook and prepare food. It becomes easier to start eating packaged meals.
- Decreased digestive enzymes and stomach acid – Absorption of nutrients is decreased.
- Medications that affect the digestive system – Many older people use antacids, which decreases stomach and tends to causes vitamin deficiencies. Prescription medicines may have effects as well.
- Progressive withdrawal – Many older adults isolate themselves from the world, becoming depressed. Appetite loss is common.
- Inability to drive – Relying on other people for transportation limits access to shopping.
- Limited income – Retirement incomes may not be adequate to buy the most appetizing food.
Older individuals also tend to have nutritional deficiencies, especially vitamins such as the B vitamins and Vitamins C and D because of physical and social changes.
So facing all this, what is the best way to ensure that you eat a healthy diet?
What do you really need to eat?
- Fruits and vegetables are essential to your well being and the more, the better. Be sure to include citrus for the Vitamin C and spinach for calcium, iron and vitamins. Fresh spinach can be used to make salads with pears or tuna fish, crab or tomatoes. Vary the dressings. A tossed salad a day is a great rule. Experiment with fruits and vegetables that you’ve never eaten. Pick out bright colors to make your dinner attractive. They not only provide fiber, but also vitamins and minerals.
- Whole grain bread and pasta are sources for both fiber and vitamins as well. Avoid white bread.
- Dairy products are also important sources of Vitamin D and calcium for your bones. But be sure to stick to low fat or fat free.
- Protein is very necessary, but watch the fat intake. Pick lean meats and increase your intake of chicken and fish, along with beans, some eggs and nuts. And stay away from frying, Bake, broil, saute – anything but fry.
- Be careful with sweets and desserts (especially if you have diabetes). They taste good, but offer very little in the way of valuable nutrition.
Experiment with spices and other flavorings, such as lemon zest, or orange to find ways to overcome your decreased senses of taste and smell.
You can eat well, but you need to understand why you no longer like the food you once loved. Make some changes to keep yourself healthy and enjoying life and food. And talk to your doctor about your medications if you think they may be causing part of the problem. Bon Appetit!