When you were a child, adults probably encouraged you to eat your vegetables so you'd grow up strong and healthy. But eating right remains important even after you've grown up.
For seniors in particular, eating well is a key to maintaining independence and health. But some changes that occur with age can make getting enough of the right nutrients a challenge.
Changing calorie needs
With the exception of a few nutrients, such as calcium, our nutrition needs really don't change that dramatically with older age, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
We should strive to eat the same variety of healthy foods recommended in our younger years, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA).
We should pick foods that are low in saturated fat and trans fat.
What does change? How many calories we need to consume.
We need fewer calories as we age, because older adults typically use less energy, according to the academy. As a result, if we don't adjust our calorie intake, we will probably gain weight.
That means it is especially important in older age to focus on foods that are nutrient-dense but calorie-light, such as:
- Fruits and vegetables.
- Lean meats, fish and beans.
- Foods low in added sugars.
- Low-fat dairy products.
- Whole instead of refined grains.
Though foods are the best source of vitamins, minerals and other necessary nutrients, dietary supplements may be a good idea for some seniors.
For example, your doctor may suggest a multivitamin meant for older adults, especially if you limit your food choices. Supplements with vitamin D, vitamin B12 and calcium are often recommended.
Your doctor can help you decide if a supplement is right for you.
Other changes that can affect nutrition
Calorie needs aren't the only thing that change as we age. Our nutrition needs may also be affected by a variety of other changes to our bodies and lives.
Here are a few examples, along with solutions for coping with them:
Medications. Some medications can affect our appetite and our sense of taste. Side effects such as nausea or decreased energy levels can make us less interested in preparing and eating food.
Solution: Talk to your doctor. He or she might be able to change your medications.
Chewing difficulties. We might start avoiding certain foods because problems with gums or our dentures make it harder to chew, according to the NIA.
Solution: Seek softer versions of problem foods, such as ground meat or canned fruits and vegetables.
Desensitized senses. Aging itself can dull our senses of taste and smell, making food less flavorful and appealing.
Solution: Add herbs, spices, lemon zest or juice to food to enhance flavor. Remember, however, that salt is linked to high blood pressure.
Social isolation. Seniors who find themselves suddenly single might feel less inclined to prepare meals they know they're going to eat alone.
Solution: Join friends or family for meals. Take part in group meal programs, such as at your local senior center.
Healthy nutrition, healthy life
Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your diet or nutritional needs.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Healthy Lifestyles for Healthy Older Adults." https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/healthy-weights-for-healthy-older-adults.
- National Institute on Aging. "Dietary Supplements for Older Adults." http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/dietary-supplements.
- National Institute on Aging. "Healthy Eating As You Age: Know Your Food Groups." https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/healthy-eating-you-age-know-your-food-groups.
- National Institute on Aging. "How Much Should I Eat? Quantity and Quality." http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/healthy-eating-after-50.
- National Institute on Aging. "Overcoming Roadblocks to Healthy Eating." https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/overcoming-roadblocks-healthy-eating.
- National Institutes of Health. "Vitamin D." http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-QuickFacts/.