Nutritional needs change as we age, and seniors must adjust their approach to what they eat along the way. It may not be surprising that the healthy dietary requirements typically suggested are for a younger population. This article spotlights three important nutrients that can help improve the quality of life for older adults and includes examples of healthy eating for seniors.
The older body has different needs, and many lack optimal nutrition. One recent study shows that three-quarters of people over 60 are malnourished. This concerning number increases in people in older age. There are multiple reasons for this. For example, there are changes in appetite, medication interference, or difficulty cooking and feeding oneself.
By paying attention to key nutrients and healthy eating habits, older adults can make every bite count to thrive as they age. Because individual’s health conditions vary, it’s important to speak to your health care provider for further advice based on your individual needs.
Three key nutrients for older adults
Based on the unique needs of an older body, food choices matter. Eating a healthy diet goes a long way in staying mobile with fewer chronic issues like heart disease, cancer, low bone density, and depression.
Here are three important dietary requirements and helpful suggestions for older individuals. A great strategy is to read product labels for exact nutritional values.
Without a long-standing foundation of regular exercise, older adults experience loss of muscle mass, which may lead to frailty and risk of injury. It stands to reason that seniors need to increase their intake of protein-rich foods to maintain mobility, wound-healing capabilities, and overall strength.
Specifically, women who weigh 150 pounds need 55 grams of protein daily. A 180-pound man needs 65 grams. These numbers would need to be adjusted for variations in weight.
Please note if you have a known diagnosis that involves the kidneys, please consult your primary care provider before increasing your protein intake.
Protein-rich foods to consider: lean red meats/poultry/fish; eggs; dairy; nuts; legumes; protein powder supplements.
Meal examples with healthy amounts of protein can include
- 95%-lean hamburger
- Grilled chicken with a side of quinoa
- Baked salmon with a side of broccoli
- Omelet with bell peppers
- Split pea soup
- Fruit smoothies with added protein powder
- Protein-rich snacks like cottage cheese or almonds
This nutrient is necessary for heart health, muscle activity, and bone and tooth density. Everyday calcium intake needs to increase as we age because of decreased absorption. Anyone over the age of 51 should be getting 1,200 mg of calcium every day.
It may be a revelation that there are delicious foods containing calcium that don’t come from a cow, as many typically associate calcium with dairy. This is good news for people who want variety in their diet as well as individuals who are lactose intolerant.
Calcium-rich foods to consider: dairy; dark leafy greens; almonds; certain cheeses.
Meal examples with foods that contain calcium include
- Plain yogurt with fresh fruit, like blackberries
- Baked chicken with mozzarella cheese and a side of kale or broccoli
- Cereal with calcium-fortified milk or almond milk and a serving of calcium-fortified orange juice
Fats in foods give a more satisfying texture and boost flavors. Thankfully, older adults can benefit from keeping healthy fats in their chosen foods.
Good fats, called Omega-3 and Omega-6, are critical for heart health, blood sugar control, and brain function, among other body functions. So-called “bad” fats clog arteries and increase inflammation. Avoid foods like margarine, fried foods, processed meats, lard, and shortening.
If a senior has trouble maintaining weight, good dietary fats can assist with weight gain. Conversely, too much of a good thing leads to detrimental numbers on the bathroom scale.
Foods to consider with healthy fats: vegetable oil; fatty fish; full-fat dairy; nuts.
Meal examples with healthy fats can include
- Salmon, sauteed in olive oil, with a side of brown rice
- Sardines, in a tossed salad or on whole-grain crackers
- Cottage cheese with fresh fruit
- A small handful of walnuts
- Adding avocado to a tossed salad
These are just three major nutrients older individuals need to know for healthier aging. Others include B vitamins, trace minerals, and antioxidants like Vitamins C, E, D, and A.
Getting all the nutrients an older body needs from food can prove difficult. Ask your primary care provider if a multivitamin or nutritional supplement drink could be a helpful addition to your daily regime.
Meal prep made easy
There are barriers older adults may experience that get in the way of eating well on a daily basis. Fatigue, mobility issues, or cooking for one can seem insurmountable for some. Here are a few suggestions to ease the burden of daily meal preparation for older adults:
- Ask family/caregivers to assist in meals prepared ahead of time that can be easy to reheat.
- Investigate the fresh deli section of the grocery store for prepared, healthy meals. (Be sure to look at the nutrition labels, as some prepared foods can have sodium content that is higher than desired.)
- Meal delivery services that provide healthy, prepared ingredients for meals in under 30 minutes.
- Free meal delivery services provide seniors with meals that arrive ready to eat or ready to heat.
- Slow cooker meals — they are an all-in-one pot alternative.
- If you live in a senior community and have not taken advantage of the facility’s community dining services, consider it now. You can enjoy healthy, tasty meals with no cooking or clean up required.
Food is the foundation for healthy living at any age. Healthy food choices can help slow the more challenging side of aging and may help reduce or avoid frailty much later. And, living longer and better may be the outcome.