Why is nutrition important for seniors?

Nutrients are substances in food that allow for the proper functioning of our bodies. Proper nutrition not only makes you feel more energetic, but can also help prevent diseases like osteoporosis, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Thus, nutrition is particularly important for seniors who want to remain active, comfortable, and healthy.

Nutrients include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water. As you age, your body and life change, and so does what nutrients you need to stay healthy. For example, you may need fewer calories, but you still need to get enough nutrients. Some seniors specifically need more protein.

What can make it harder for seniors to eat healthy?

Some aspects of aging make it harder to eat healthy. For example, there may be changes to a senior's:

  • Home life, such as suddenly living alone or having trouble getting around

  • Physical health, making it harder to cook or feed themselves

  • Medicines, which can change how food tastes or take away your appetite

  • Income, which means that you may not have as much money for food

  • Problems chewing or swallowing

Healthiest Foods:

  • Fruits and vegetables (choose different types with bright colors)

  • Whole grains, like oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, and brown rice

  • Fat-free or low-fat milk and cheese, or soy or rice milk that has added vitamin D and calcium

  • Seafood, lean meats, poultry, and eggs

  • Beans, nuts, and seeds

Things to Limit:

  • Foods that are high in cholesterol and fat. You especially want to try to avoid saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are usually fats that come from animals. Trans fats are processed fats in stick margarine and vegetable shortening. You may find them in some store-bought baked goods and fried foods at some fast-food restaurants.

  • Empty calories. These are foods with lots of calories but few nutrients, such as chips, candy, baked goods, soda, and alcohol.

What if Eating is Difficult?

  • If eating alone is a concern, consider attending potluck meals or cooking with a friend. You can also look into having meals at a nearby senior center, community center, or religious facility.

  • With trouble chewing, see your dentist to check for problems

  • With trouble swallowing, try drinking plenty of liquids with your meal. If that does not help, check with your health care provider. A health condition or medicine could be causing the problem.

  • With trouble smelling and tasting your food, try adding color and texture to make your food more interesting

Source: “Nutrition for Older Adults.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 12 Mar. 2020, medlineplus.gov/nutritionforolderadults.html.