There is an unhealthy myth that older adults don’t have to think about what they eat as much as when they were younger, but making sure seniors get the right nutrients can help them stay energized, lower the risk of developing chronic health conditions, and impact their well-being and independence.
There are many reasons why seniors might develop poor eating habits, such as a decreased sense of smell and taste, difficulty getting to the grocery store, and depression. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, about 80 percent of veterans are overweight and obese, and another quarter have diabetes. Common symptoms of malnutrition include frequent falls, chronic digestive upset, extreme hair loss and rapid cognitive decline.
If you want to help your loved one stay active and independent, here are some healthy eating tips for your family member as they get older.
Focus on Nutrient-rich Foods
As people age, they need fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight. However, the need for certain vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin D, and vitamins B6 and B12, increases after age 50. Encourage your loved one to eat more nutrient-rich foods, such as vegetables and fruits, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein, to help them get the vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates and fats they need. If they do rely on convenience foods, look for prepackaged foods that are low in added sugar, saturated fat and salt.
Sometimes seniors have to avoid certain foods because their medications interact with them. Additionally, some vitamins are poorly absorbed by older adults. Consider asking your loved one to keep a food diary to help ensure they are getting the nutrients they need. If it looks like they need a boost, ask their doctor about a multivitamin that fulfills 100 percent of the recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals for seniors.
People often forget that water is a nutrient, too. Everyone should try to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. Seniors can also get fluids from juice, tea, soup, and water-rich fruits and vegetables.
If you want to protect your loved one’s health, consider buying them a health monitoring device, which measures blood pressure, blood sugar or weight. Additionally, the VA has registered dietitians that can help you with any nutrition and health concerns. Contact your local VA, and ask to be transferred to the Nutrition and Food Service to schedule an appointment.