The importance of nutrition begins to take center stage as we age when it comes to boosting energy and increasing overall well-being. Proper nutrition matters at any age, but seniors, in particular, need to take their dietary choices seriously if they want to enjoy optimal health as they age. Despite the importance of nutrition as we get older, lots of seniors aren’t getting all the nutrients they need to thrive and feel their best. In fact, malnutrition is a common issue among the elderly, especially those who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Whether you’re getting older yourself and want to stay healthy for as long as possible, or if you have an elderly loved one whom you want to help stay nourished, there are a lot of important factors to keep in mind. Read on to learn everything you need to know nutrition for seniors.
Elderly Nutrition Needs
Why is nutrition important for senior citizens? Well, as we age, our nutrition requirements change.
Older adults are at a greater risk of certain nutrient deficiencies, which can make them more vulnerable to lifestyle and diet-related health conditions (this includes things like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer).
The following are some of the most common nutrient deficiencies that seniors may deal with as they get older:
As we get older, our risk of osteoporosis (a condition that causes the bones to become weak and brittle) increases. This, in turn, increases our risk of experiencing fractures when we fall.
To minimize the risk, it’s important for seniors to consume adequate amounts of calcium. Calcium is a mineral that promotes strong, healthy bones. It is found in dairy products, as well as leafy greens, almonds, and canned fish like sardines and salmon.
In addition to calcium, it’s important for seniors to consume enough vitamin D, too. Vitamin D is necessary for proper calcium absorption. It also promotes a strong immune system and can help to improve one’s mood.
The best source of vitamin D is direct sunlight, something that seniors often don’t get in sufficient amounts (especially when they live in nursing homes or retirement communities). It’s also found in foods like salmon and egg yolks.
Fiber plays an important role in proper digestion. It helps to keep people regular and reduces one’s risk of experiencing digestive issues like constipation and diarrhea.
Eating adequate amounts of fiber has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer as well. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber, as are whole grains.
Many seniors aren’t getting enough vitamin B12. A deficiency in this vitamin, which plays a key role in proper blood cell health and function, can lead to anemia, fatigue, and memory problems. Red meat is a great source of vitamin B12, as are other animal protein sources like chicken and fish.
Without enough potassium, seniors may be more prone to high blood pressure. This is especially true if their sodium intake is elevated beyond what’s considered healthy (around 1,500-2,300mg per day). Potassium is found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, including bananas and potatoes. Beans are a good source as well.
Proper Nutrition for Seniors
When it comes to eating healthfully as we get older, there are lots of steps that seniors can take to ensure they’re meeting their specific nutrition needs. Here are some tips seniors (as well as those who care for them) ought to remember when planning meals:
Focus on Fruits and Vegetables
Seniors (and everyone, for that matter) should eat a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. High fruit and vegetable consumption will provide them with the fiber they need for proper digestion, as well as nutrients in which they might be deficient. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of antioxidants, too, which can help to protect the body against oxidative stress and cell damage.
Eat Enough Protein
Proper protein consumption is essential for seniors, too. Without eating enough protein, seniors will be more prone to muscle loss (sarcopenia). This, in turn, can cause them to lose strength and make them more prone to injuries.
Drink Enough Water
Dehydration is a common issue among senior citizens. This is because their sense of thirst tends to become reduced and, as a result, they often don’t realize how little water they’re drinking. To combat this, seniors should try to have a glass or two of water with each meal. They might need to set alarms to act as reminders as well.
Minimize Sugar and Processed Food
Seniors should minimize their consumption of sugar and processed food as much as possible. Sugar-rich and processed foods are often high in calories and low in nutrients. They’re especially not recommended for seniors who are dealing with other health problems like high blood pressure or diabetes.
Enjoy Healthy Fats
Healthy fats promote proper brain function and are essential for good overall health. Great fat sources include extra virgin olive oil, avocados, and fish like salmon.
Supplement with Care
For seniors who aren’t able to get all the nutrients they need from food alone, supplementation can be useful. Seniors might need to take vitamin B12 supplements, for example, or calcium supplements. Herbal supplements can be beneficial as well, to encourage proper organ function. For example, as the article, “6 Herbs to Enhance Kidney and Liver Function“, from Microbe Formulas teaches, Milk Thistle is an herb that releases antioxidants that help cleanse the kidneys.
Start Focusing on the Importance of Nutrition for Seniors
When it comes to meeting seniors’ nutrition needs, there’s a lot to keep in mind. If you want to live well into old age (or help your elderly loved one continue feeling their best), you need to remember the importance of nutrition for older adults, though.
Follow the guidelines outlined above and it’ll be much easier for you to ensure that you (or your loved one) are able to get all the nutrients you need.
If you’re looking for more nutrition advice for seniors, don’t forget to check out the Health section of our site. We’ve got lots of other great resources here, including tons of delicious and nutritious recipe ideas.