Young man preparing healthy meal with older adult.

How to Help Your Senior Loved One Get the Right Nutrition

Bethesda Health | February 19, 2021

Malnutrition is not simply a lack of food, but a lack of the foods the body needs to remain healthy. Without proper nutrients, the immune system is weakened, healing takes longer, and muscle weakness increases the likelihood of falls. Although a senior may have plenty of access to food, malnutrition can still be a concern.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology, “hidden hunger” is a term used to describe people who are of normal weight or even overweight but lack adequate nutrition in their diets. They may not show physical symptoms, and the signs can be overlooked even by physicians. For these reasons, it is best to monitor the nutrition of seniors.

Barriers to Good Nutrition in Seniors

There are barriers that prevent seniors from getting the nutrition they need, including:

Before beginning a nutritional plan, it is important to consult a physician about any underlying conditions she or he suspect might be keeping the senior from preparing or consuming nutritious foods.

Getting the Right Nutrition

Older adults have different nutritional needs than younger people. As they require fewer calories, they need to make the most of the foods they do consume.  

Let’s examine some specific foods seniors require to meet their needs and strategies to improve their ability to identify them and to enjoy them.

Before taking vitamins or minerals as supplements, however, consult your physician. Interactions with medications and side effects are possible.

What to Avoid

Saturated fats

Sodium

Added sugars and sweeteners (check food labels for these)

The “usual suspects”

Sugar and Salt

As the ability to taste decreases with age, seniors may experience an increased desire to consume sweets, especially if they do not take in enough carbohydrates to meet their energy needs. To combat this, seniors should not skip meals even if they are not hungry, and they should turn to healthy snacks like fruits when sugar cravings strike.

Loss of taste through aging also promotes the overuse of salt. To reduce salt intake, try seasoning foods with pepper or spices. Choose unsalted varieties of snacks such as unsalted peanuts. Be aware that processed foods tend to contain far more sodium than foods made from scratch. Read food labels and look for foods with a high sodium content. Check with a physician before using salt substitutes.

Strategies

It takes some planning and preparation to consistently eat the right foods, particularly to meet the nutritional needs of seniors. This means learning what foods the body needs and what it doesn’t. To that end, it might help to compose healthy food lists as guides while grocery shopping.

Also, a food diary would allow the senior to record what they are eating on a daily basis. This will help you be mindful if you are prone to eat without thinking about how often, how much, and what you are consuming.

Plan ahead. Make a menu and determine what you are going to eat during the day before the day begins. This should keep you from grabbing whatever food is quick and easy.

Eliminate temptation. Don’t keep foods nearby that you know you shouldn’t be eating. That just makes it too easy to cheat.

Liven up bland foods with lemon juice, herbs, and spices, and have some healthy snacks on hand.

Finally, the word “diet” has the connotation of something that you must endure temporarily. Consider a healthy diet as a permanent way of living. 

Know the Signs of Malnutrition

These signs include:

Find more information about healthy living as a senior on our blog!

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