Eating well as you age isn’t just about maintaining a healthy weight. Good nutrition plays a huge role in a senior’s holistic health, helping them stay energized, lowering their risk of developing chronic health conditions, and improving overall vitality.
“Developing good eating habits is one of the best things you can do for yourself,” says Flagstaff’s Dining Service Chef Supervisor Antonio Aizon.
Of the many reasons to not eat healthy, it takes more time to plan and prepare meals. There are many changes that affect an older person’s appetite and eating.
If you’re a family caregiver who helps an aging loved one with grocery shopping or meal preparation, it helps to know how nutrition needs and eating habits change with age. In this blog, you’ll learn about special nutrient needs of older adults, common obstacles to good nutrition, and the importance of staying hydrated.
Special Nutrient Needs of Older Adults
It can be challenging to maintain a well-balanced diet as you age. Your body changes significantly, medications can alter your appetite or your body’s ability to absorb key nutrients, and chronic diseases can affect your eating habits.
Your nutritional needs change as you age, as well. Older adults need:
- More calcium and vitamin D to help maintain bone health
- More B12 to create red blood cells and maintain healthy nerve function
- More fiber-rich foods to stay regular, help lower the risk for heart disease, and prevent Type 2 diabetes
- More potassium to lower the risk of high blood pressure
- Less sodium to lower the risk of high blood pressure
- Less saturated fats and trans fat to help reduce the risk of heart disease
This Meal Planning Worksheet is a template that can be used by family caregivers to plan for a week of healthy meals, make a grocery list, note the ingredients you already have, and start the week off on the right foot.
“When you make food from scratch, more times than not it will be nutritious and also very delicious,” Aizon says. “By making stocks and bone broths and using different methods and techniques to elevate the food, you can obtain flavor without all the negative things.”
Common Obstacles to Good Nutrition
Poor nutrition in seniors isn’t just caused by eating too little food or food that is lacking in nutrients. It’s often a combination of factors that make it more difficult over time for older adults to get the food they need to stay healthy in mind, body, and spirit.
Common challenges include:
- Loss of appetite
- Not always able to physically shop, cook, or eat
- Eats alone most of the time
- Tooth or mouth problems that make it hard to eat
- Illnesses, conditions, or more than three medications
This Nutrition Checklist for Older Adults offers more than 25 tips to help family caregivers cope with common problems that can make it harder for older people to eat healthily.
Don’t Forget About Water
The risk of dehydration is higher among older adults. Your loved one might have a reduced sense of thirst, so it’s easy to forget to drink enough. Some medications have a diuretic effect. It might be challenging to get up to get a drink when they’re thirsty.
Unfortunately, dehydration is one of the most prevalent reasons for hospitalization among people over 65.
“Leave drinks in a place where your loved one can both reach and see them, such as on a coffee table in the living area,” Aizon suggests. “You can also offer foods with high water content, such as watermelon, strawberries, oranges, cucumber, soup, and yogurt.”
What Food in Assisted Living Is Really Like
“If you were to walk in my kitchen right now, it would smell like the Togarashi-seared tuna I just made with roasted root vegetables, blackened salmon with a classic French remoulade, and seared chicken marinated in a balsamic-herb mix topped with a chipotle aioli,” Aizon says.
Want to taste Aizon’s creations for yourself? Stop by Highgate at Flagstaff for a meal. “I love making people happy with their eyes, with their noise, and with their mouth,” he says. “If I can make a difference, even the slightest one, it would make my life meaningful on a daily basis.”