Daily food choices influence the health of older adults. Good eating habits help the body maintain muscles, bones and organs in good working order. The essential nutrients older adults need for good health are protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water. Foods that contain a lot of nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish and whole grains are healthy dietary choices.
According to the National Institutes of Health, eating a balanced mix of foods each day can help older adults reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, anemia and some types of cancer. Even if you or a loved one already have a chronic health condition, good eating habits can help in managing those conditions. For instance, choosing high-fiber, low-fat foods can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Food provides the body with the energy it needs to get through the day. However, some older adults do not get sufficient nutrients, while others do not engage in enough physical activity. An imbalance can lead to weight loss or gain. That’s why it is important to get the right mix of food and activity in each day.
For older adults who live alone and aren’t eating well, daily socialization may help to stimulate their appetite. Community services such as Meals on Wheels or in-home companion care may lead to better food intake at home.
Here are four ways aging influences nutrition:
- Metabolism – Metabolism is not just how fast your body burns calories – but also how well it uses nutrients to maintain a healthy body. According to Medline Plus, metabolism slows over time, beginning at age 20.
- Digestion – Digestion also slows with age. Decreased saliva and stomach acid make it harder for older adults to process vitamins and minerals such as B12, B6 and folic acid – which are important for cognitive function, memory and circulation.
- Senses – Older adults may experience changes in taste and smell. Certain medications may also affect how food tastes. Use of herbs and spices, instead of salt, can make food more appealing. However, the urge to eat sweets can remain strong in seniors. Satisfy those cravings with naturally sweet foods, such as fruits, carrots, corn or bell peppers, rather than cookies and candy.
- Bones – Older adults need vitamins and minerals to maintain bone strength. A broken bone can lead to serious health consequences in older adults, so getting vitamin D each day from low-fat or fat-free milk is a good idea. Consult a physician regarding the need for vitamin supplements.
Aging can affect how food is digested, the taste and smell of food as well as bone strength. Good nutrition habits can help older adults deal with these changes. For information about healthy eating plans for older adults, check out these guides: What's on Your Plate and Healthy Eating After 50.
ComForCare/At Your Side Home Care helps older adults maintain independence at home. Our trained caregivers can assist seniors with shopping for groceries, preparing nutritious meals and washing the dishes.