As we age, our bodies require different nutrients and different amounts of particular nutrients. Some studies have found that up to 50 percent of the elderly population suffers from poor nutrition or even malnutrition.
Because seniors may have limited mobility, nutrition becomes a two-fold challenge – 1. exercise to burn off calories is onerous, and 2. grocery shopping, prepping and cooking food can be burdensome. And for those seniors who live alone, many healthy meals may seem too overwhelming to prepare just for one or two portions.
Signing up for meal delivery programs, hiring a home care service, or moving to a residential living community are all potential solutions for those who need help sticking to a healthy meal plan.
The following are some of the major nutritional concerns of seniors.
One of the interesting physical changes of aging is that our thirst-based trigger to drink is less active. Also, having lean muscle mass means seniors have less storage capacity for water. So your aging loved one is requiring more water, can’t hold as much water in the body, and doesn’t have as strong a cue for thirst! Drinking enough water is critical for constipation prevention and proper kidney function.
Drink six to eight glasses of water per day. Perhaps scheduling water drinks – whether thirsty or not – will help, as seniors may not remember if or how much water they drank. Using a water bottle with measurements on it can also help in keeping track of water consumption.
- PROTEIN DEFICIENCY
Many seniors substitute meals with snacks, as appetites might not be as strong as they once were. Unfortunately snacks, tend to be carbohydrate-heavy with little or no protein. Your aging loved one still requires protein to maintain a healthy metabolism and even to help maintain lean muscle mass.
Protein should be in most meals or snacks. Good breakfast choices are Greek yogurt or eggs. Protein-rich lunch and dinner choices should include poultry, red meat, eggs or seafood. Nut butters as well as cottage cheese beans and milk are also great choices for snacking. This may be a difficult dietary change for many seniors, but start by making small changes, like having toast with peanut butter for a snack instead of crackers.
- VITAMIN ABSORPTION
The digestive system changes a bit as we age. Decreased amounts of stomach acid (necessary to break down nutrients) and lower levels of digestive enzymes make it more difficult for the body to absorb and metabolize particular nutrients. Vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and folic acid become more difficult to absorb as we age, leading to deficiency. Some medications, such as proton pump inhibitors, antacids can interfere with B12 absorption as well. Vitamin D deficiency is also common because the skin’s ability to convert vitamin D from sunlight decreases as we age. Vitamin D, however, is necessary for calcium absorption. Calcium is another nutrient most older adults don’t get enough of in their diet. Both calcium and vitamin D are essential to keep bones strong and minimize bone loss.
Combining certain foods helps increase nutrient absorption. Vitamin C aids in calcium, absorption. Adding tomato to a meal with cheese is a great option. Vitamin C also improves iron absorption, so add lemon on fish, or top your cereal or yogurt with fruit. You can also look for foods (usually breads, cereals and milk) that are fortified with folic acid and or vitamin D. Vitamin B and supplements as well as calcium supplements may be helpful for some seniors. Vitamin B 12 shots have been effective for people with B 12 deficiency.
Healthy eating habits are important for everyone, but they become even more important as we age. Make sure your aging loved one is eating a healthy diet that is nutritious and encourages longevity. Registering for a meal delivery program or hiring a home care service like Passionate Private Duty may be an ideal solution if your loved one needs help starting or adhering to a nutritious meal plan.