Eating healthy is important no matter how old you are, but exactly what your body needs, depends on your age. Over time, our nutrition requirements change. For seniors, that means eating foods that not only provide energy and maintain a healthy weight, but that lower the risk of developing chronic health problems and prevent diseases, including osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
How Our Dietary Needs Change as We Age
As we age, our nutritional needs change in a few ways. For one, we are less active, our metabolism slows, and our energy requirement decreases, which means we need to eat less. On the other hand, our nutrient requirements actually increase because our body’s ability to absorb and use nutrients isn’t as efficient as it used to be.
Other dietary changes include the need for more calcium to protect bones, and vitamin D for absorption. And seniors, even more so than other age groups, should avoid foods that are high in cholesterol, fat, sodium and sugar, as these can contribute to common senior health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
What Does a Healthy Senior Diet Look Like
According to the National Council on Aging, a healthy meal should consist of a lean protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy. It’s also extremely important for older adults to drink plenty of water. The key is to eat foods that provide lots of nutrients without a lot of extra calories. Opt for brightly colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, poultry, eggs, lean meats, beans, nuts and seeds.
To lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease, seniors should choose foods rich in fiber and potassium, and stay away from processed or packaged foods, which tend to contain trans-fats, saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium. Seniors should also avoid empty calories, like those found in chips, candy, baked goods, soda and alcohol. To replace calcium and vitamin D, fat-free or low-fat milk and cheese, or soy, almond or rice milk with added vitamin D and calcium, are recommended.
Why Seniors Struggle with Nutrition
Despite years of research indicating how critical nutrition is for aging adults, many still struggle to achieve a healthy balance. This can be due in part to decreased appetite, or a loss of taste or smell, either from the natural degradation of taste buds or medications. Loss of muscle tone can make chewing or swallowing difficult, and a decline in oral health or ill-fitting dentures, can make eating uncomfortable.
Aside from the physical limitations, many seniors simply aren’t eating enough due to social circumstances. If they’ve lost a spouse or a close friend, eating alone may mean eating less. And lack of reliable transportation and a fixed income can make it challenging to shop for groceries or to afford high-quality foods and produce, which tend to be more expensive.
How to Ensure the Senior You Love is Eating Right
If you notice a lack of dishes in the sink, small amounts of food in the home, or low turnover on the food that is there, these are all signs that an older adult isn’t eating well. Weight loss, a lack of energy or listlessness, and confusion should also set off warning bells. It may time to consider a move to a senior living community.
Why Senior Living is Good for Senior Nutrition
Residents at Eddy Senior Living have access to scheduled transportation to local grocery stores all year long, as well as on-site dining options, nutrition classes and cooking demonstrations, and fresh produce at farmers’ markets in the summer. Residents in our assisted living and memory care communities also enjoy three freshly prepared meals each day, created by experienced nutritionists and chefs who specialize in geriatric nutrition.
Here are 4 additional ways that Eddy Senior Living helps promote healthy senior nutrition.
• Group Meals. Isolation and loneliness can contribute to poor eating habits, however, the community environment of senior living alleviates isolation, nurtures friendships, and encourages group dining.
• Creative Menus. With senior living, residents don’t have to worry about meal planning or getting bored with the same old meals. Our culinary department is focused equally on nutrition and creativity, and rotates the menu regularly based on what’s fresh and in season.
• Dining Options. Not only do residents enjoy three, freshly-prepared meals a day, created by experienced chefs who specialize in senior nutrition, but they have the choice of both casual and fine dining options.
• Restaurant Trips. To keep eating fun and exciting, many of our senior living communities offer a Dinner Club. Transportation is provided for residents to dine at different restaurants in the area for a group outing.