5 Ways Seniors Can Improve Nutrition

Donna Sundblad's picture

Did you know people lose 50% of their taste buds by age 75? Getting proper nutrients is important but more challenging as we get older. Here are 5 ways seniors can improve nutrition.

Most people in their 50s don't consider themselves senior citizens as yet, but this is the stage in life where the body's metabolism starts to slow due to a decrease in muscle mass that comes with aging. Reduced muscle mass changes the number of calories your body needs to stay healthy. Getting the nutrition needed becomes even more challenging as the body's ability to absorb important vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fiber also decreases. These physiological changes, along with social and emotional reasons, can lead to malnutrition.

Contributors to Poor Nutrition in Seniors
Along with physical changes in how much food our body needs and uses there are other factors that affect how seniors eat. For instance, they may eat less in an effort to keep off unwanted pounds. While it is good to maintain a healthy weight, it should be done by making wise and healthy choices including nutrient-dense foods. Other factors that may contribute to poor nutrition in seniors include:

  • Lack of interest in preparing meals
  • Lack of appetite or interest in eating (Most people lose 50% of their taste buds by age 75)
  • Poor oral health; problematic teeth
  • Decreased sense of smell and taste
  • Interaction with medications

Eat Healthy Nutrient Dense Foods: Don't guess at your nutritional needs. Talk with your healthcare provider. What you need depends on your age and level of activity. Food choices will also focus on taking in enough fiber and calcium. Fiber rich foods like oatmeal, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, and calcium rich foods including dark leafy greens, low-fat dairy like yogurt, cheese, and milk make good choices.

Start with foods you like: Knowing what to eat and actually doing it are two different things. A good approach is to start with foods you like or used to enjoy. If foods don't taste as good as they once did, experiment with new seasonings. Try herbs and spices that offer new flavors to perk up your taste buds.

Cut empty calories: Another important step is to cut out foods that offer calories but no real nutritional benefit. Avoid simple carbs which lack nutrition and eat complex carbs and proteins instead.

Eat smaller but frequent meals: A common complaint among seniors is that they just can't eat as much as they used to eat. That's not really a problem because their body requires less. Eating smaller meals frequently is the best approach. This may amount to eating 5 or 6 snacks throughout the day. Either way, the key is to choose foods that are nutritionally dense, and to avoid foods that are nutritionally lacking. For example, choose whole-grain crackers to eat with cheese or peanut butter. Snack on grapes (frozen grapes make a tasty choice), and don't overlook seeds like walnuts and sunflower seeds. Add a handful of blueberries to your yogurt. The goal should be to enjoy a range of flavors and nutrients to meet your body's needs and to keep eating interesting.

Nutrition drinks: For those who struggle with problematic teeth, or who have no appetite or desire to cook, nutrition drinks can help provide the nutrients you need. What some people don't realize is that these very problems may be symptoms of malnutrition.

Common signs of malnutrition include:

  • Depression
  • Disorientation
  • Easily bruised
  • Hard time staying warm
  • New dental problems
  • Poor wound healing
  • Unexplained bruising
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Weight loss

If you see these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, talk to your doctor about your concerns and work with them to meet your nutritional needs.

Image by Old Shoe Woman License type: Creative Common License