Nutrition plays an essential role in maintaining the health of seniors. Inadequate nutrition results from poor quality food choices and/or inadequate calories, both which can contribute to low energy, muscle loss, malnutrition, and obesity.
As we age, it’s common to have a reduced appetite. Your sense of taste and smell may also diminish which often leads to eating less. Although reducing caloric intake as your physical activity level declines is appropriate, you need be sure to get enough calories and nutrients to maintain healthy bones, muscles, and organs. Even if your daily calories match your activity level, calories from processed foods are lacking in nutrition and contribute to both obesity and malnutrition. You actually can be overweight and malnourished! So, limit foods that are high in processed sugars, saturated and trans fats, and salt. Instead, choose nutrient dense foods that will help you to stay energized and fit.
Even if you don’t feel thirsty, getting plenty of water to stay well hydrated is vital to maintaining healthy brain and organ function as well reducing the incidence of constipation. Be sure your fluid intake averages half your body weight in ounces.
Protein is a key nutrient for elderly adults to improve muscle health, help maintain energy balance, weight management, and cardiovascular function. A majority of seniors require more protein than when they were young. Although protein is important, be careful to not overeat protein which can contribute to kidney issues, gout, increased fat mass, and more. Talk to a licensed nutritionist or a doctor to know what’s best for you. Some high-quality protein options are:
- Legumes— beans, lentils, peas
- Lean animal protein—chicken, turkey, fish, limited beef
- Limited dairy (avoid if it causes GI issues)
- 100% Nut butter
For a healthy digestive system and to avoid constipation and other problems, include fiber-rich foods at every meal. Soluble fiber is especially important for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Good sources of fiber include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Beans and lentils
- Nuts and seeds
- Oats and oat bran
- Whole grains
Focus on filling your plate with vegetables, both raw and cooked. These foods are packed with vitamins and minerals necessary for a well-functioning body. Frozen fruit and vegetables without any added sugars or preservatives are a great option if spoilage is an issue. When preparing vegetables avoid unhealthy ingredients such as vegetable/corn oil and excess salt.
We often think of fat as unhealthy but it’s important for cellular and brain health, energy, hormones, and neurotransmitters. Healthy fats include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Olives/extra-virgin olive oil
Healthy eating is important throughout your entire life; don’t let age be an excuse to eat junk. Remember that food is fuel and supplying your body with the best nutrient-rich fuel helps you prevent or manage chronic health conditions. It can also help you feel stronger and energized, allowing you to enjoy the golden years of your life.