Everyone these days hears about how we need to eat lots of healthy foods – what does that mean for us – and especially for our senior population?
According to the National Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Aging at Florida International University, malnutrition can lead to lost weight and strength, lessened immunity to disease, confusion and disorientation. Malnutrition exacerbates frailty and debilitation, which leads to a host of problems, including causing more stress and concern among family members.
So, what should seniors’ diets include to improve their health and well-being and prevent common ailments?
Foods to Prevent Osteoporosis and Promote Health in Seniors
To keep your elderly loved one healthy, do your best to incorporate high-fiber foods, complex carbohydrates, and proteins into your senior’s diet. Watch for signs of dehydration and Vitamin D deficiency as well. Plus, ensure your loved one is getting enough iron and calcium in their diet. Learn more about the foods rich in each of these vitamins and minerals to support senior health.
The Importance of Fiber for Seniors
Increasing fiber consumption is important for older adults because it counteracts the slow down of the digestive system helping food properly move through the digestive tract. Some love-able foods rich in fiber include apples, almonds, quinoa, and walnuts, which can all be paired in a delicious breakfast crumble or oatmeal.
The Importance of Complex Carbs for Seniors
Complex carbohydrates are found in many common foods ranging from brown rice to broccoli, spinach, and many other vegetables. Whole grain pasta as well as pears and similar fruits are good sources of complex carbs.
The Importance of Proteins for Seniors
Further, you’ll want to target easy to digest proteins like eggs, fish, garbanzo beans, and chicken. Did you know that a protein rich diet can help seniors avoid falls?
Each year one in three adults ages 65 years and older fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and up to 30% of those falls result in serious injuries, such as fractures or brain trauma. One in three is a pretty alarming statistic.
According to a new study from the Institute for Aging Research, eating a protein-rich diet that includes both animal and plant sources could help prevent falls. Eating fish, chicken, beef and pork help build muscle mass, while plant proteins - like lentils, beans, nuts and seeds - can help preserve muscle strength.
According to MedicalXpress.com, men need about three ounces of protein per day and women need about 2.5 ounces, all from a combination of plant and animal based foods rich in protein.
So, the good news is, that favored hearty Bean Burrito Bowl is a great choice for your aging loved one.
The Importance of Water for Seniors
How much water should seniors be drinking? Since water makes up more than half of your body weight and it is essential to avoid dehydration. Drink six 12 ounce glasses of water per day. Many of our beloved seniors enjoy copious amounts of coffee as well, so counteracting the dehydrating nature of the caffeine in coffee is important to their health.
You can monitor for dehydration by observing your urine. You want it to be light and transparent - as that is a sign of proper hydration. If instead your urine is dark yellow, start drinking more water because you are dehydrated.
The Importance of Vitamin D for Seniors
Those of us living in the Pacific Northwest are at particular risk for vitamin D deficiency. During the summer months, many of us can get quite a bit of vitamin D just from being out in the sunshine, but it’s tougher during the winter. It turns out that elderly people, especially elderly people living in the northern U.S. are at high risk for having low levels of vitamin D. Some studies have shown that 85% of the elderly are likely to have lower than optimal levels of vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency can occur for a number of reasons:
- You don't consume the recommended levels of the vitamin over time. This is likely if you follow a strict vegan diet, because most foods rich in Vitamin D are animal-based, including fish and fish oils, egg yolks, cheese, fortified milk, and beef liver.
- Your exposure to sunlight is limited. Because the body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight, you may be at risk of deficiency if you are home bound, live in northern latitudes, wear long robes or head coverings for religious reasons, or have an occupation that prevents sun exposure.
- You have dark skin. The pigment melanin reduces the skin's ability to make vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. Some studies show that older adults with darker skin are at high risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Foods rich in Vitamin D build strong bones and helps them from becoming thin, brittle, or misshapen. Together with calcium, vitamin D can help protect adults from osteoporosis as well. The best source is the sun and through eating cod liver oil, herring, salmon, milk, and Swiss cheese.
The Importance of Calcium for Seniors
Eating nuts, broccoli, fortified orange juice, milk, low fat yogurt, cooked collard greens, and sardines in your daily meal plan provides natural sources of Calcium which may help avoid many bone related conditions such as Osteoporosis.
This is due to the fact that when you consume less calcium, your body begins to reabsorb the existing calcium from your bones, making your bones more brittle.
Because it can be difficult to consume the recommended 1200 mg of calcium per day, calcium supplements are a good alternative.
The Importance of Iron for Seniors
Iron carries oxygen to human blood cells by producing hemoglobin, so when you’re suffering from an iron deficiency, you feel tired and lethargic, aka anemic. To counteract this, start incorporating more foods rich in iron such as meat, poultry, and fish, legumes, peas, leafy dark green vegetables, and whole grain or enriched breads and cereals.
Good Supplements for Senior Health
While including the foods discussed is a good start towards achieving and maintaining elderly health, it would be worthwhile to discuss some supplement options with your doctor. It is likely that they may recommend a supplement regimen of:
- Vitamin B12
- Omega 3 - Fatty Acids
- Vitamin C
Magnesium support heart function and your immune system. Potassium reduces blood pressure which supports the proper function of your typical physiology. B12 vitamins aid the production of red blood cells, which remove the carbon dioxide from your body. Omega 3's are important no matter your age, as they prevent bodily inflammation which causes arthritis, heart disease, and can cause cancer. Omega 3's have been found to reduce Alzheimer’s risk as well. Vitamin C is an antioxidant rich source to help your body repair itself. Zinc supports your immune system to fight off bacteria and viruses.
What to Do When Elderly Stop Eating
If you're the primary caregiver of a senior parent you may be worried about their lack of appetite and their habit of refusing to eat. Seniors living at home, especially seniors living alone, often fall into a routine of eating the same meals night after night or sometimes skipping meals altogether.
When seniors limit their food choices, they put themselves at risk for malnutrition because it’s harder to consume the variety of nutrients needed for optimal health. Another problem for some seniors is that eating the same foods day after day can make those foods less appealing, so they eat less.
But, keep in mind, as people age, they need to eat less as they become less active, so if they say they are not hungry, that really may be the case. When this becomes concerning is when the reason behind the food denial is caused by emotional stress and depression.
How to Get Elderly to Eat
Generally, we all tend to eat less as we age, however, you should be aware of a few signs that your loved one is not consuming as much as they should be. Such danger signs include:
- Increased medication side effects
- Dry mouth
- Problems chewing or swallowing.
When the elderly stop eating, employ these six tips to get your elderly loved on to eat.
1. Make a variety of foods and serve small portions.
Concentrate on complex carbohydrates, high-fiber foods, and lean proteins as the main intake. To save time you can make larger amounts of food and freeze separate portions so they have great nutrition on hand if they feel like having a second helping.
2. Keep favorites on hand.
Half an avocado can make a great salad, and a small dish of berries can be a perfect snack. As long as they're getting a balanced variety of food let them choose their favorites as often as possible to preserve their dignity.
3. Make meals sociable.
Whether you eat out, eat with your parent, or invite company for dinner, having a social meal almost always makes to appetite better. While many of your loved ones may not be close by anymore, do your best to surround them with enjoyable company.
4. Keep to a meal schedule.
While you can have a bit of flexibility here it's always best to have set meal times. In the same strain, don't feel like you have to have three big meals a day for your parent. Three smaller meals work well with nutritious snacks in between or five small meals. Whatever works for your schedules and their appetite is the key to go by.
5. Keep nutritional foods and drinks on hand.
What should you feed your elderly loved one who has no appetite? If your parent isn't hungry they can sip on a vitamin shake instead of eating a full meal. Keep a dish of nuts or fruit on hand for snacking on; nutritional trail mixes can be handy snacks for elderly loved ones as well.
6. Keep the fluids flowing.
Always be aware of the risks of dehydration and make sure your senior gets enough to drink. Dry mouth, headaches, loss of appetite, and dizziness can all be signs of dehydration.
Talk to your parent's doctor for other dietary suggestions that might help boost your parent's appetite, and always make sure they aren't taking a medication that might react with a certain food. Learn more about Senior Wellness and how to help your aging loved one stay healthy.
Smart Eating for Seattle Seniors
An Important Part of Retirement Living
We’re often asked about how we meet the nutritional needs of our residents. We appreciate that question because older adults have special—and sometimes changing—dietary requirements. And while what your senior loved one eats may not be the first thing your think about when considering a retirement community, it’s a very important part of their well-being.
We realize that as our residents age they need fewer calories because they are expending less energy. Of course your senior’s specific requirements may be different from their neighbor across the hall. The American Dietetic Association reports that energy needs vary with factors such as age, gender, and activity level.
Changing Perceptions of Food Taste & Smell
Anyone who provides meals for seniors needs to keep in mind that changes in a senior’s physiology (a normal part of the aging process) can result in changes to their senior’s sense of taste and smell. These changes can even affect your senior’s ability to properly digest and absorb nutrients.
These things obviously make it a challenge to provide seniors with meals they need and like—something you may have some experience with if you’ve been your loved ones primary caretaker!
Meals at Daystar Retirement Village
That’s one reason our meals at Daystar are prepared by a highly trained staff. We work hard to provide a wide variety of menu choices tailored to the preferences of our residents. And we ensure that special dietary needs for each of our residents are met. All food we serve is prepared with a minimum amount of salt, and even though many of our residents have a sweet tooth, we offer sugar-free desserts at every meal.