As we age, following a healthy diet becomes more difficult. The taste of food may diminish, chronic illnesses or medications can require a change in the foods consumed, and physical and cognitive problems limit a person’s ability to obtain, prepare and store food. The body’s ability to absorb nutrients decreases with age, and the challenge of shopping for the proper foods can make wise nutritional choices harder. And a decreased ability to chew may limit diet as well.
There are ways to appeal to a senior’s appetite and meet his or her nutritional needs.
1. Find Aids to Eating and Drinking
Frailty, weakened muscles, and arthritis can make handling cutlery, cups, and bowls a problem for seniors. The effort to eat, therefore, can affect how much they eat.
There are several devices that can assist seniors in feeding themselves. They include utensils that are lightweight, balanced, angled and bendable, and some have grips that fit around the palm of the hand.
Cups with weighted bottoms or double handles and straws are available, as well as bowls with slip-resistant bottoms, and partitioned bowls.
2. Emphasize Food Safety
The proper storage of food is obviously a part of eating healthy. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), as people age, they are less able to handle the bacteria in improperly stored food. Also seniors’ decreased sense of taste and smell inhibits their ability to detect when food has gone bad.
Detailed information on how to safely store food can be found on the USDA website.
3. Learn About Nutrition for Seniors
A good diet for seniors mirrors the same diet recommended for adults of all ages. The basics of a healthy eating plan emphasize fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, good fats, and a reduction in the consumption of sugar and salt.
However, seniors may have some special dietary needs to keep in mind. Consult a physician or registered dietitian about nutritional needs. A focus on some special needs might include:
Important for cognitive function, nerve function, and to prevent anemia. Sources of B12 include liver, fortified cereals, beef, dairy and eggs.
Vitamin D and Calcium
Calcium helps maintain bone health, and can be found in low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and dark green leafy vegetables. Good sources for Vitamin D include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna fish, as well as mushrooms, and fortified foods.
Fiber not only helps with digestion and preventing constipation, it can also assist in keeping blood sugar low, and lower cholesterol levels. Fiber sources include whole-grain breads, cereals, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
Potassium is important for seniors, as it is responsible for energy level, brain function and maintaining metabolism, as well as heart and muscle function, potassium is important for seniors.
Sources include fruits, vegetables such as broccoli and peas, bananas, potatoes and citrus fruit. It is important to consult a physician about a senior’s potassium levels.
Fats and Omega 3
There are good fats and bad fats. The worst kind of fats are trans fats, which have no health benefits and no safe level of consumption. You find them in baked goods, shortening, pizza, fried foods and stick margarine. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are good for you, and provide a needed source of energy. They help in the absorption of vitamins and minerals.
Omega 3 fatty acid are also a good source of fat, and can be found in fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Sources include flaxseeds, and walnuts as well. Omega 3 consumption has been linked to the prevention of heart disease and stroke.
4. Employ Savory Strategies
What are some ways you can improve the eating experience of your senior loved one? Consider the following:
- Have a regular meal and snack schedule
- Serve smaller portions of high-nutrient food
- Make snacks easy to eat
- Fruit smoothies are a good option
- Vary food choices
- Add flavor with herbs and spices, not salt
Develop a list of foods your senior enjoys and put them into a dining plan. Keep a food diary for your senior so you can determine if they are receiving the proper nutrition.
Try making the dining experience special. Reduce noise levels at the table and perhaps play some music the senior enjoys. Use colorful plates, bowls, cups, and glasses. Let the senior eat at his or her own pace (people with dementia tend to eat slower). Colorful food is also more appetizing
If your senior has difficulty chewing and swallowing food, try the following foods and have plenty of fluids on hand:
- Oatmeal or cream of wheat
- Cold fortified cereal that softens with milk
- Low-fat yogurts, puddings, or custards
- Tender-cooked meats, chopped fine
- Fish without bones
- Clear broth soups
- JELLO with fruit
- Food that is mashed or pureed
Read our Health & Wellness section of our blog for more nutrition and wellness tips.