Good nutrition gets more important as we age for the simple reason we eat less. The body needs fewer calories but the same amount of vitamins, protein and other nutrients so we can’t get away with eating junk like we could when we were younger. Detailed health advice can only come from a nutritionist or doctor, but there are simple steps everyone can take for improved senior nutrition.
Of course, some people don’t eat enough, but many have the opposite problem. Outdated eating habits from our youth plus new, slower metabolism equal larger bodies. Fortunately, you can develop new, better habits. If deciding to eat better proves puzzlingly ineffective, you may have an underlying health problem or an eating disorder. Talk to your doctor.
However, you don’t have to look like a swimsuit model. Some age-related weight gain is fine, even preferable, since it provides some “insurance” against unhealthy weight loss caused by illness.
Senior nutrition is all about quality over quantity. For the most part, the advice here is similar to what younger people should do; eat lots of fruits and vegetables, choose whole grains over white flour products and choose beans and lean meats, such as fish and poultry, over red meats. Avoid diet fads and any advice that sounds complicated or extreme, unless it comes from your doctor or nutritionist because fads are often quite wrong. Just eat good food.
Nutrition for seniors does have a few unique points. Your body is not as good at absorbing or processing certain vitamins like B12 or D as it used to be so you have to eat more of these micronutrients to compensate. You may also need extra fiber to prevent constipation. If you choose to take supplements, consider liquid or chewable versions, since you might find swallowing pills more difficult than it used to be.
Besides having slightly different nutritional needs, many seniors also have different wants and that can cause problems. The thirst mechanism gets weaker so you might not drink enough. The senses of taste and smell, just like the senses of vision and hearing, often get weaker too so food doesn’t seem as appealing. Loneliness, sadness and frustration can conspire to make food not seem worth eating at all. Many elders end up underweight and dehydrated. Serious physical and cognitive impairment can result from dehydration and malnutrition alone.
You can, of course, resolve to eat and drink well despite not feeling like it, but especially if you are also fighting depression, that is harder than it sounds. Therefore, it’s important to get help. Joining friends and family for meals is a good place to start. Some organizations also offer healthy meals for seniors.
One option is assisted living. Not only do these facilities take over the work of cooking and cleaning up afterwards, but the social contact and engaging activities can help alleviate the depression that makes eating difficult in the first place. Oklahoma City area residents can reach out to the Village at Oakwood.