Nutrition has a huge impact on the physical health and wellbeing of older adults.
Many people may not realize that nutrition needs vary depending on a person’s age. Just like toddlers have different dietary needs than teenagers, nutritional needs for elderly folks are much different than that of younger adults.
Unfortunately, senior nutrition doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Not only does healthy eating for seniors contribute to physical health, but it also has a huge bearing on memory and mental function.
Here’s why nutrition for older adults is so important and how to ensure seniors receive adequate nutrition.
The Importance of Healthy Eating for Seniors
Believe it or not, seniors are extremely susceptible to malnutrition. This happens for a few reasons.
- Metabolism – and appetite – slows down with age
- Less caloric intake means less opportunity for nutrients
- The body’s ability to absorb nutrients (especially specific important nutrients) decreases with age
You might think that a slower metabolism and decreased appetite would be somewhat healthy. Less food intake means less opportunity to digest unhealthy fats and sugars, right?
While that may be true, it also means that seniors have a smaller opportunity to absorb nutrients. When they eat, they need to get the most bang for their buck.
Healthy eating for seniors is exponentially important for several reasons. Nutrition impacts health in several ways.
- Organ function: eyes, kidneys, liver, and digestion
- Brain function: memory and cognitive ability
- Managing chronic illnesses like high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and dementia
- Strengthening the immune system and promoting proper healing
- Muscle and bone health: preventing fractures and falls, maintaining mobility, strength, flexibility, and posture
Special Nutritional Needs for Elderly Folks
Nutrition for older adults is important for supporting cellular function throughout the body, strengthening the immune system, and warding off physical and mental illness.
This important aspect of senior nutrition has a few benefits. Fiber is essential for maintaining proper digestive health and avoiding constipation. Plus, many fiber-rich foods like whole grains are vital for supporting heart health.
Younger adults need protein to stay fit and ward off high cholesterol. Nutritional needs for elderly folks are similar in this respect, but the main reason seniors need protein is for muscle strength.
Muscle mass decreases with age so protein is vital. Atrophied muscles can lead to falls and a loss of mobility. Seniors require just as much – if not more – protein than younger adults.
Vitamin B12 deficiency affects up to 15% of adults over 60. Why? The digestive system’s ability to absorb protein-bound vitamin B12 decreases with age. Lack of this vital nutrient has a huge impact on both the blood and central nervous system.
While young people are certainly susceptible, the effects are even more pronounced in the elderly. This can include anemia, tingling or numbness in the extremities, fatigue, poor balance, and memory loss.
Calcium, Vitamin D, and Magnesium
All three of these nutrients are essential for maintaining strong bones and muscles. Strong bones and muscles are crucial for avoiding falls and fractures associated with age as well as osteoporosis.
These vitamins and minerals all work together: bones require calcium for strength, vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, and magnesium helps available calcium make its way through the blood stream.
The entire body needs adequate potassium levels for several reasons. This mineral is vital for cellular function across the body including the heart, muscles, nervous system, blood.
Nutrition for older adults should always include good levels of potassium to maintain strong muscles and healthy blood pressure levels.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Most people already know that omega 3 fatty acids are important for maintaining heart health. They may not realize, however, that these fatty acids are also crucial for supporting brain health in several ways.
Low levels of omega 3s can cause memory loss, reduced immune function, and even mental health conditions like depression. Omega 3s are especially important when it comes to healthy eating for seniors with dementia.
How to Ensure Adequate Nutrition for Older Adults
It’s not always easy to eat healthy. This is especially true for older adults. When seniors eat meals, they need to ensure each bite is packed with as many nutrients as possible.
Here are some of the best foods to include as well as some tips for meeting the nutritional needs for elderly folks.
- Add flavor with spices and herbs. Avoid high cholesterol and high sodium flavorings like butter and bacon.
- Stick with fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables: canned goods contain high levels of sodium and sugar.
- Encourage several small meals instead of three large meals.
- Include dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, and collard greens – these are packed with vitamins and minerals.
- Stick with complex carbohydrates like oats, brown rice, and whole grain pastas or breads.
- Choose bright colored fruits and veggies like peppers and cranberries – these contain lots of antioxidants.
- Include lean protein with every meal like chicken, ground beef, and beans.
- Avoid refined sugars and simple carbs like baked goods, white bread, and white rice – these spike blood sugar levels and don’t have much in the way of nutritional value.
- Make sure to add multivitamins and supplements for well-rounded senior nutrition.
- Don’t forget to stay hydrated.
The Victorian Understands the Importance of Senior Nutrition
The Victorian Assisted Living & Retirement Center in South Dakota strives to make the best quality of life possible for all our residents. Our staff works hard 24 hours a day to ensure every resident’s needs are met to the fullest.
We also understand the importance of healthy eating for seniors. Not only do we provide balanced meals, but we also do everything possible to cater to residents’ special dietary needs. If you or a loved one are considering assisted living or moving into a retirement center, contact The Victorian today or pay us a visit to check out our facilities. You can also give us a call at 775-204-8421.