We could all stand to eat a little healthier. What and how much we eat has a big impact on the length and quality of our lives. But seniors may face special issues and challenges when it comes to eating healthy.
As a person ages, their metabolism slows and they typically need fewer calories, so it is all too easy to overeat. As a rule of thumb, a woman over 50 should consume 1,600-2,000 calories per day, depending on how active she is. A man over 50 should consume 2,000-2,800 calories per day, depending on how active he is.
In connection with diet, we also need to talk about water. Elderly people are especially prone to dehydration because an older body is less efficient at regulating its fluid levels, plus the sense of thirst is dulled with age. So it is important to be aware of this and drink a little water throughout the day periodically and not go by whether you are thirsty.
The sense of taste can also be dulled in seniors, in some cases leading them to use more salt on their food than in the past, when in fact if anything they should be cutting back on salt due to sodium’s effect on blood pressure. If more flavor is needed, use seasonings and spices that are less deleterious to health than salt. Also if you must use salt, use a small amount of coarse sea salt rather than conventional table salt.
Taste can also be adversely affected by dental issues. Lack of teeth and dental decay can alter diet not only by making it difficult or painful to chew, but by giving food an abnormal taste. Maintain proper dental care, and if you need dentures, make sure they are properly fitted and comfortable so you’ll be willing to wear them.
Medication can also affect taste, which can in turn adversely affect diet. Speak to your doctor if you notice a change in the way foods taste as a possible side effect of any medication you are taking.
There are some nutrients that an older body can have more difficulty processing, and so you might have a deficiency of these if you only get about the minimum recommended amount for an adult. These include vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and folic acid.
There are other nutrients where there isn’t a problem with processing them; an older body simply needs more of them. Calcium is one, as seniors are prone to osteoporosis and bone fractures. Fiber is another. Make sure to eat plenty of foods rich in these particular nutrients, or take appropriate supplements.
Much of the advice one could give seniors about eating healthy would apply to people of other ages as well. Fresh fruits and vegetables are great-whole fruit rather than juice if possible for the fiber, and raw or steamed rather than boiled vegetables, since vegetables lose nutrients when they’re boiled. Look for foods made from whole grain rather than processed white flour. Consume foods with the good kind of fat that promotes the good kind of cholesterol, such as avocados, fatty fish like salmon, olive oil, and walnuts. As mentioned, go easy on the salt.
Eating right will keep you healthy, mentally alert, and energetic well into your senior years. Just remember that as you get older, your body is less forgiving, so there’s less margin for error.
“Healthy Eating for Seniors.” Nutrition.com.
“Senior Nutrition: The Joy of Eating Well and Aging Well.” Helpguide.org.