Good nutrition is important throughout your life, but it’s important to understand how nutritional needs change in your senior years. You may need to adjust your eating habits to give your body its proper nutrition. As you get older, keep in mind these five factors to maintain a healthy diet.
1. Caloric Needs Change with Age
As we get older, our resting metabolic rate declines. That means the body doesn’t burn energy as efficiently and we require fewer calories. Without practicing portion control and avoiding “empty” calories—foods with high sugar, fat, or oil content—a person can become overweight more readily in old age. According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, maintaining your recommended weight can reduce the risk of some diseases, including high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
The National Institute on Aging recommends following the Choose My Plate dietary guidelines for Americans. The guidelines emphasize eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while avoiding saturated fats and sugar. Remember, in addition to a nutrient-dense diet, exercise is also important for seniors to maintain their weight and adequate muscle mass.
2. Your Sense of Taste Can Weaken with Age
Some people experience a weaker sense of taste as they age, especially those with a history of smoking. Certain medications can also contribute to this effect. Without the full enjoyment of taste, it may be harder to maintain adequate nutrition because the person relies on sugary or salty foods with more taste. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is wise to rule out any underlying causes for the loss of taste, but there are a few steps that can help.
One tip for enhancing the taste of foods is to stay hydrated since taste relies on saliva production. It’s also a good idea to flavor foods with natural herbs and spices, rather than too much salt. As Harvard Medical School points out, excess salt consumption can negatively affect heart health, especially in seniors.
3. Staying Hydrated Can Be Difficult for Seniors
Similar to taste, thirst becomes harder to sense as we age. According to the Cleveland Clinic, seniors already have less water in their bodies than younger people, so they are especially at risk for dehydration. Water is crucial to joint, muscle, and organ health, and it also helps regulate body temperature. Dehydration causes a wide range of problems for seniors, from mild to severe, and is a common cause of hospitalization. For older adults who struggle with dysphagia, or the tendency to choke when drinking water, pureed foods, and nutritious shakes can help deliver adequate hydration.
4. Seniors May Need Supplements for Certain Nutrients
Some vitamins and other nutrients become extra important in advanced age. Older adults are less able to absorb vitamins and minerals from food, so supplements may be necessary. Common supplements for senior health include:
- Calcium – Important for bone health including treatment of osteoporosis
- Vitamin D – Works in conjunction with calcium for bone health and also supports immune system health
- Vitamin B12 – Supports a healthy nervous system
- Potassium – Helps to reduce blood pressure
- Fiber – Reduces risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes
A doctor can order tests to watch for any gaps in these and other nutrients levels and may recommend a supplement.
5. Dining Services Can Make a Difference in Senior Living
Living alone, especially with mobility or memory challenges, can make it difficult for an older adult to get adequate nutrition at home. Living in independent living, assisted living, or memory care — depending on a senior’s overall needs for a level of care — can help ensure they eat a healthy diet.
When selecting a senior living community for yourself or a loved one, put dining services on your checklist of important features. Make sure that nutrition is a priority and that a variety of foods is available. Keep in mind, eating is important not only for health but as a social experience where neighbors and friends dine together.
Discover Healthy Eating and Living at Aviva
At Aviva Senior Living, Chef Ignacio Suarez has been creating perfectly curated meals for our guests since 2000. We offer casual to fine dining, and hear plenty of positive feedback! Residents can request specially prepared meals sent to their apartments or dine with others in the Kobernick dining room or The Meadows country club, which includes three restaurants as well as poolside dining.
Aviva’s Joseph Gottlieb Wellness Center offers routine health assessments including monitoring for blood pressure and blood sugar levels and can partner with your physician to help guide decisions about overall health and how to avoid illness, including proper nutrition and dieting. Please contact us to learn more.