Eating properly is especially important as you age, but due to a variety of factors, it can be more difficult to get the nutrients your body needs. The good news is, there are simple measures seniors can take to make sure nutritional challenges don’t affect their overall health and well being.
Older adults have fewer taste buds that younger people, and the remaining taste buds usually aren’t as sensitive. Your sense of taste can also be affected by loss of nerve endings in the nose, which frequently happens at an accelerated pace after age 70. Decreased sense of taste can mean seniors add too much salt to their food, and often have a strong affinity to sugar foods like desserts.
To counterbalance a decreased sense of taste, try eating foods packed with prominent, but healthy, flavor-boosters like herbs, spices, and citrus. Avoid eating excess salt or sugar.
Loss Of Appetite
Many seniors also have loss of appetite as they age, making it difficult to get all the necessary nutrients. The need for fewer calories is due to lower activity levels and the natural aging process.
To make sure you’re still getting all the necessary nutrients, make sure the food you do eat is nutrient-dense, meaning packed with vitamins and minerals. Examples of nutrient-dense foods include all vegetables, fruit, nuts, salmon, and eggs. You’ll also want to exercise regularly if possible - aim for at least 3x per week.
Less Efficient Nutrient Absorption
The digestive tracks for older adults don’t absorb some nutrients as efficiently. For example, older people are more likely to have conditions that reduce stomach acid production, leading to less efficient vitamin B12 absorption. For some nutrients, it may be helpful to take supplements if your body is having trouble absorbing them through food. Of course, talk to your doctor before taking any dietary supplement.
Menopause and Prostate Problems
As estrogen production declines post-menopause, women tend to lose bone mass, which can increase the risk for osteoporosis. Therefore, older women usually need more calcium in their diet. Plus, a decline in estrogen levels can lead to increased belly fat if you continue eating the same amount of calories and consume high-fat foods.
Prostate problems are very common for older men, and research suggests eating a low-calorie diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables could reduce the risk for prostate diseases.
Depression and Isolation
Recent studies have shown that loneliness can be as dangerous to someone’s health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day! Older adults are more prone to depression, which can be a risk factor for malnutrition. Social isolation is also a significant issue for seniors living alone.
Eating in the company of others as much as possible, living in an active adult 55+ community (non necessarily assisted living), and getting involved with community organizations (church, volunteer opportunities, local schools, etc.) can help.