Nutrition is one of the most important aspects of maintaining good overall health as we age. Eating right is critical at any age, but it becomes even more important as we get older. Maintaining a consistent diet, that includes all the essential vitamins and minerals, is necessary for a variety of reasons. Nutrients help provide energy needed for accomplishing daily tasks and participating in fun activities. They are needed to supply the brain and muscles with the fuel to carry out basic functions.
A nutritious diet also helps prevent an assortment of health conditions and diseases, and contributes to seniors being able to continue to live comfortably and independently.
The problem is that a large percentage of seniors in Canada are not getting enough nutrients in their diet. Processed foods are easy to prepare, and make it simple for people that don’t like cooking to get a quick meal. However, processed foods are filled with all kinds of harmful ingredients and lack the nutrition needed for healthy bodily function. Processed foods high in fat and sugar should be avoided as much as possible, and instead replaced by fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, quality fish and poultry, beans, legumes, and nuts.
Changes in Eating Habits with Age
As we get older our bodies go through all kinds of physical changes that can affect diet and lifestyle in general. Nutritional needs change, and typically so too do appetites and eating habits.
Some aging changes that can affect diet, may include:
- Calorie intake
- Health issues
- Additional factors
Our appetites tend to modify with age, as capacity of taste buds often diminish which can have an effect on palate. Foods we used to find delicious may no longer hold any appetizing appeal. Overall appetite is also prone to drop off, which can lead to unhealthy weight loss, and malnutrition.
We require fewer calories on a daily basis as we get older as well. Especially for seniors that don’t get a lot of physical activity, excess calorie intake can lead to weight gain, which can result in a variety of health problems.
The total number of calories is not nearly as important as the type of calories being consumed. Empty calories found in sugar and unhealthy carbs and fat, do not get broken down as easily and do not contain the nutrients needed to provide sufficient energy.
Foods high in vitamins, minerals, protein, and fibre should be targeted.
The emergence of health issues may also cause fluctuations in appetite, and may spark the need to remove certain foods from your diet. A poor diet can also contribute to an array of health issues, such as:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Dental problems
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
On the other hand, maintaining a healthy diet can help prevent the onset of these health problems.
Older adults are often taking some type of medication to manage chronic health issues. In many cases, seniors are taking multiple medications at once. The side effects of these medications can have an impact on appetite and eating habits.
Some medications can even have negative interactions with certain foods, that diminish the body’s ability to properly utilize the drug.
Be sure to know the dietary effects of all medications being taken, and the possible effects of mixing multiple medicines.
Of course there are always other things going in people’s lives that can play a role in appetites and eating habits. For example, the death of a spouse can have a considerable effect on diet. Losing a spouse that did all the cooking can be particularly impactful on nutrition.
In these circumstances, it is recommended to enlist the assistance of a home caregiver to help implement healthy eating routines, and encourage them to be followed.
Nutrition Tips for Caregivers
There are several useful tips that caregivers can employ to help seniors maintain a healthy diet. Some helpful suggestions, may be:
- Plan for the week with a list of healthy meals and ingredients
- Grocery shop together to purchase nutritious items
- Prepare food that can be easily put together or reheated throughout the week
- Avoid processed foods
- Focus on fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, free range chicken, beans, legumes
- Make sure all food items are well labeled
- Share a meal for social activity