Our nutritional needs are vastly different as toddlers, teens and adults than they were when we were babies. As we age, those needs continue to evolve. This is especially true for seniors, who tend to eat less, yet need more of certain, critical nutrients.
It can be hard to break habits or start new ones, especially for older adults. But remember, variety is the spice of life! Really, though, variety in meals adds a little spice (literally and figuratively) to the days, and ensures a more robust collection of vitamins and nutrients. In fact, this advice is pretty solid for all of us — but especially for seniors.
Better senior nutrition starts with small changes.
Breaking old habits and starting new ones really can be challenging, though. To help you senior loved ones build in some new, healthy eating habits, try these eight (8) smart and simple tweaks:
1. Eat more greens. We all require calcium for healthy bones and teeth. It’s especially important for older bodies to keep their bones strong. While fortified milks (including non-dairy almond, soy, and oat beverages), cereal and juices can be nice sources of calcium, our bodies best absorb calcium from natural sources. And you may be surprised to learn that “greens” (think spinach, collard greens, swiss chard, and many more) are some of nature’s best sources of calcium! Bonus: These and more greens pack a wallop for heart health, and can have numerous, positive effects on bodies of any age!
2. Don’t neglect Vitamin D. Vitamin D is an interesting vitamin, because our bodies actually produce it on their own. Sunlight exposure triggers our bodies to produce this important vitamin. But for those of us who can’t get outside very much or who live in cold, cloudy winter climates, a Vitamin D deficiency can be quite common. Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium, and protect us from a host of other ailments. Fortified foods like cereal, milks (including dairy and non-dairy varieties) and juices are excellent sources. Getting outside for 10-15 minutes of sunshine per day can also help our bodies naturally regulate Vitamin D. If you believe your senior loved one has a Vitamin D deficiency, your doctor can order a simple blood test. Depending on the result, supplementation may be necessary.
3. Get your B12. B12 deficiencies are common in many adults, and particularly seniors, since our bodies don’t always absorb this vitamin efficiently. B12 helps keep our nerves and blood cells healthy, and deficiency can cause tiredness, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, balance problems and confusion. Since these symptoms are sometimes associated with getting older, a B12 deficiency may go undetected. B12 can be found in fortified foods and supplements, and is also found in animal proteins.
4. Kickstart each day with protein. Decreasing muscle mass makes protein an especially important nutrient for seniors. One study found that adults over 50 may require as many as 35 more grams of protein per day. The same research suggests that it’s helpful to have high-quality protein as part of the first meal of the day in order to meet that recommendation. Oatmeal, yogurt, eggs, tofu, nuts, and smoothies can all be excellent sources of protein — at any time of day.
5. Pour yourself some prune juice. It’s a great source of potassium, which helps keep blood pressure at healthy levels. Other foods that will help you get the recommended 4,700 milligrams of potassium each day include winter squash, bananas, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, white beans, yogurt and broccoli.
6. Have an apple a day. That old advice rings true! Whole fruits, with the skin on, are a fantastic source of fiber and a healthy antidote to constipation, which is common in older folks. Fiber — soluble fiber in particular — also can help keep cholesterol and blood sugar levels in check. Apples, beans, flaxseeds and oats are good sources of soluble fiber.
7. Avoid excess salt. If it seems like food doesn’t taste as good as it used to, it may be because the sense of taste and smell can become duller with age. Before you reach for the saltshaker to add flavor, however, keep in mind that in some people, consuming too much sodium can increase blood pressure. Try seasoning food with generous amounts of fresh herbs, spices, citrus juice or vinegar instead. And while cutting salt at the dinner table helps, a majority of consumed salt in the United States actually comes from processed, packaged goods. Avoid overly processed food and focus instead on whole foods (especially plants) to keep sodium in check.
8. Drink up. It may take seniors longer to notice they’re thirsty (often, not under mild dehydration has set in), so it’s important for older adults to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Water is best, but milks, coffee, tea, soup and fruit juice also contribute to your daily fluid intake (watch caffeine intake on coffee and tea; however, as they can have a mild diuretic effect. Whole fruits and vegetables tend to contain plenty of water, too.
Ensure Mom or Dad is getting the care and nutrition they need.
At Interim HealthCare, our compassionate caregivers can help Mom or Dad prepare healthy meals and stay on top of their nutrition. We are committed to helping seniors live their best lives. To learn more about our senior caregiving services, find the Interim HealthCare location nearest you.