Nutrition tips for seniors are often overlooked as their families and physicians are more focused on dealing with and treating illnesses and health-related conditions.
Dietary habits and preferences change with age. Seniors tend to eat less and make different food choices nutrition wise which can reduce their vitamins, minerals and nutrient intakes. This can have a strong impact on their health. However, diet-related issues tend to be less apparent than other more obvious signs of aging, such as memory loss, weakness and limited mobility and hence are overlooked.
Following proper nutrition tips for seniors prevents them from developing weak bones and muscles, slows down memory loss and helps retain body functions. It can help reduce the risk of illnesses resulting from nutrition deficiency and manage the impact of chronic diseases. Proper nutrition may reduce the frequency of trips to doctors and the need to take pills and medications, whose side effects can sometimes do more harm than good.
Nutrition Tips for Seniors
Proper diet and nutrition tips for seniors are critical parts of caring for the elderly. Here are 7 nutrition tips for seniors to maintain a healthy lifestyle:
1. Eating a protein-rich diet
Protein provides the body with energy and keeps it functioning normally. It also replaces muscles lost through daily wear and tear. Protein deficiency can lead to weakened muscles and loss of muscle mass, which can impact seniors’ health and mobility.
Incorporating meats, seafood, pulses, beans, nuts, poultry, and seeds in meals can provide the protein required by the body to maintain its mass.
Meat preserves easily so seniors or their caregivers can purchase fresh meat and seafood in bulk, cook it according to the senior’s preference and store it in the freezer for later use. Eggs are a great source of protein and can be hard-boiled and stored for a few days. They also make a great protein-rich snack.
2. Incorporating fibre-rich food in every meal
Fibre is vital for the digestive system. It can reduce hypertension and bad cholesterol. It strengthens the heart, reduces the risk of kidney stones and gallstones and helps maintain a healthy weight. Low fibre can cause constipation which can be painful for seniors.
Seniors can get fibre from fruits and vegetables which should be a part of every meal. In fact, experts recommend at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day to maintain healthy fibre levels.
Whole grains, lentils, beans, and oats are other good sources of fibre. Incorporating them in every meal can help seniors avoid constipation and other digestive issues.
There are also several safe, soluble, fibre supplements available in the market, which can be either taken on their own or mixed in food or drink to boost fibre intake.
3. Drinking more water
Water is the most critical requirement for a healthy body. It is necessary for several vital body functions. Dehydration can make any existing illnesses worse and can be life-threatening among seniors as it can reduce the body’s ability to carry blood to organs.
It is recommended that older adults drink at least 1.7 litres or eight glasses of water per day even if there is no thirst. By the time a person feels thirsty, the body is already dehydrated.
Our ability to sense thirst declines with age and our bodies’ warning systems for dehydration get compromised. This means that seniors are at a higher risk of getting dehydrated.
Caregivers for Elderly should keep an eye out for common symptoms of dehydration such as fatigue, lethargy, muscle weakness or cramps, headaches, dizziness, nausea, forgetfulness, confusion, deep rapid breathing, or an increased heart rate. They should make sure that water is readily available to seniors under their care, especially if they have limited mobility. Fruits such as berries, melons and oranges, and vegetables such as cucumbers, lettuce and cauliflower have a significant amount of water and can be incorporated into a senior’s diet to complement direct intake.
Alcohol, and Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, are diuretics and can cause dehydration in addition to many other medical complications. Hence, their intake should be limited or avoided altogether.
4. Increase calcium in diet
Calcium is needed by seniors for bone development and keeping the bones and teeth strong.
Seniors are at a high risk of calcium deficiency as the body’s ability to absorb calcium decreases with age and as a side effect of many medicines prescribed to seniors.
Signs of calcium deficiency can include muscle cramps, aches, and spasms, body pains, tingling and numbness in the limbs and around the mouth.
Calcium deficiency can lead to a loss of bone density, high fracture risk, dental problems, skin diseases, depression and osteoporosis.
Caregivers should monitor seniors for any symptoms of calcium deficiency and ensure that they are regularly consuming calcium-rich foods, including milk, yogurt, cheese, fish such as salmon and sardines, vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, nuts such as almonds, sesame seeds, tofu, beans and cereals.
The senior’s physician must be consulted before taking any calcium supplements as too much calcium can increase the risk of kidney and cardiovascular diseases among seniors.
5. Reduce salt intake
People need less salt as they age. However, seniors’ ability to taste salt reduces with age, which can compel them to crave salty food or add extra salt or salty sauces to their food. However, high salt intake can be risky for seniors, as it can lead to high blood pressure, calcium loss and cognitive decline. This risk does not mean they need to stop using salt altogether. However, they must decrease salt intake.
Caregivers can ensure that seniors are consuming a low salt diet by helping them prepare fresh meals and avoiding processed food which is a major source of salt. They can use salt alternatives such as herbs and spices to season food. Spices such as basil, rosemary, cayenne peppers, garlic powder and turmeric can be used to enhance food flavour reducing the need to add salt.
6. Avoid sugary foods
Seniors retain the sense of tasting sugar the most, which means they tend to eat more sugary food.
Excessive sugar can cause hypertension, diabetes, inflammation, heart disease, metabolic issues and obesity among seniors.
Sugar intake can be reduced by avoiding processed food and fighting a sweet tooth by consuming healthy sweet snacks, such as fruits and berries, instead of donuts, cakes, candies and chocolates. If there are sweet snacks in the home, they should not be made easily accessible. A healthy breakfast of fruit, eggs and oatmeal can also help fight off sugar cravings throughout the day.
Sugar can be addictive and difficult to give up suddenly so caregivers can help seniors wean themselves off of it slowly through encouragement and change in diet.
7. Reduce fats
Seniors should ideally get 20 – 35% of their daily calories from fat. However, this can be easily exceeded by poor dietary choices. As seniors already have slowing metabolisms reducing their ability to burn fat, excess fat can accumulate in the body, leading to pressure on joints and vital organs and heart diseases.
Seniors must reduce their intake of unhealthy fats, such as those in fast food and processed meals and switch to healthy sources of fat such as nuts and fish. Overall fat intake can be reduced by choosing healthier food items such as lean meat and low-fat dairy and reducing the amount of fat used in cooking.
8. Senior supplements
Despite following a healthy diet regime, some seniors may still lack essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients, and may rely on supplements to fill the gap. However, no supplement must be started without consulting a physician as supplements can vary in efficacy, interact with medicine and have many risky side effects.
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