I caught up this week with Bruce Lowrie, MD, geriatrician on staff at Des Peres Hospital, about the special considerations older adults need to make to ensure they get adequate nutrition.
"As people age, a number of body changes occur," said Dr. Lowrie. "First, the senses decline. Seniors may not be able to see well enough to use a stove or read recipes or nutrition labels. Changes in smell or taste also may affect the kind of food seniors eat. Older people may opt primarily for foods that taste or smell good. These foods tend to be high in fat, salt and sugar."
Dr. Lowrie noted that seniors lose lean muscle mass and the ability to generate protein tissue as quickly. Kidney, lung and liver function also changes, as well as the immune system’s ability to make antibodies. Changes in metabolism increase body fat content, making it even more important to limit the amount of fat and calories in the diet. In addition, seniors are at greater risk for chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis, and they may be on medications that interfere with proper vitamin absorption.
If you’re an older adult, make sure you’re following these tips to ensure adequate nutrition.
- To combat the effects of sensory loss on the diet, try new foods, tastes and textures. Instead of using salt to flavor food, use low-sodium alternatives such as lemon, dill, curry and other herbs and spices.
- You can reduce the sugar and sodium content in canned fruits and vegetables by rinsing or draining them before eating. Also, keep low-sodium canned and frozen fruits and vegetables on hand for easy meal preparation.
- Meal preparation may be easier if you go to the grocery store with a friend, cook meals ahead of time and freeze them for days when you don’t feel like cooking
- To reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, include a lot of high-fiber foods such as whole-grain breads and cereals, beans, fruits and vegetables. Together with adequate fluid intake, diets high in fiber help ensure proper bowel function.
- Also, remember that as people get older, they don’t need as many calories. Limit the amount of high-fat, high-calorie snacks you eat, such as cookies, candy and cakes, and stock your pantry with nutrient-rich snacks such as dried fruit, peanut butter, whole-wheat crackers, low-fat cheese and low-sodium soups. Choose lean beef, fish and skinless chicken or turkey, and drink plenty of water and water-based fluids, such as low-fat milk and caffeine-free coffee and tea.
- If you are an older adult, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the vitamins you need. Many seniors aren’t able to easily absorb vitamin B12, so choose foods that are rich in B12, such as breakfast cereals. You also may want to consider taking a B12 vitamin supplement.
- Eat at least three servings of low-fat milk, cheese and yogurt a day. These foods are high in calcium and vitamin D, which are important for seniors. If you don’t like dairy products, you can also try soy-based products, low-lactose dairy or cultured options such as buttermilk and yogurt. You may need to take a vitamin supplement to replenish these important nutrients.
Following these tips can minimize the effects of aging and ensure you’re getting the nutrition you need as an older adult. For more information, take the senior nutrition quiz. If you have questions, talk to your doctor or for a referral to a geriatric specialist, call 1-888-457-5203.