The Best Foods for Healthy Elderly Nutrition

20 November 2019 Assisted Living

Elderly nutrition can be a difficult topic for many families or caregivers to take on. Generally, senior adults don’t eat as much, and this can make sure they get their nutritional needs met difficult.

However, knowing what is good for them and a few factors that can contribute to a nutrition deficit can help. We’ll outline nutrient needs, foods to incorporate into the diet, reasons nutrition is so complicated, and more.

Common Causes of Elderly Nutrition Deficiencies

There could be several reasons why an older adult isn’t getting the proper nutrition and nutrients they need to stay healthy. The biggest age-related challenges include:

Decreased Sensitivity

As you age, it’s common for your senses to start to decline in their sensitivity levels. It takes a lot more time and energy to trigger a stimulus than it did before. As a result, your sense of taste and smell will decrease. Since you don’t get as much joy out of eating anymore, your appetite levels start to go down.

In some more advanced cases, you could even have trouble telling if the food is stale or fresh. Everything tastes and smells the same. Without a doubt, this can be very bad for your overall health as a whole.

Depression

As a person grows older, a lot of challenges seem to rise up all at once. The children grow up, start their own families, and move away. Friends or loved ones pass away, and you begin to feel very lonely. These feelings are especially common if you live alone and don’t get a lot of visitors.

All of these issues can cause depression to develop. Elderly people might start to not care about their health or nutrition as much. Avoiding eating or eating the same things with little nutrients is a common problem. If the depression continues, it can easily lead to more severe health problems.

Lack of Finances

Unfortunately, many older people live on a very tight budget. Social security may not give you enough money every month, and you worry about your finances. To make the money stretch, you start buying less nutritional foods.

Cheaper foods and foods that last longer are usually much lower in nutrients. Eating them day in and day out because of a lack of money can give you several nutritional deficiencies. They can also load your body with bad fats, a lot of sugar, and carbohydrates.

Lack of Transportation

Many older adults give up driving or don’t feel safe driving. To shop for fresh food to cook with, you have to drive or take public transportation, make it through heavy traffic, and park a ways away from the store. If the weather is bad, this is an even scarier thought, and many people choose to stay home instead.

Unless you have someone to help you with your shopping, you could find yourself going a long time between trips to the store. Along with limiting the items you have available to eat, it also makes you rely on canned foods or foods packed with preservatives.

Medication Side Effects

A lot of elderly people take at least one or multiple medications each day. Each of these medications could have unpleasant side effects. Common side effects include nausea, changes in how you taste food, and reduced appetite.

If you feel sick, you may decide to skip meals or not eat as much at mealtime. This pattern can quickly turn into a habit, and you might find yourself eating once a day or snacking instead of eating.

Memory Loss

Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases like dementia that impact your memory are widespread among the elderly. As the disease progresses, it can be harder and harder to remember to cook and eat meals.

Depending on the disease’s stage, you could forget to go grocery shopping altogether for weeks at a time. Since you can get confused on when you last ate anything, developing nutrient deficiencies and losing weight are common.

Physical Difficulty

Weakness is prevalent as people start to get older. This condition is especially true if you have a physical condition like arthritis or a disability. Poor physical strength and generalized pain can make it challenging to have enough energy to shop and cook meals three times a day.

Essential daily functions like shopping or carrying groceries, standing for periods while cooking, preparing ingredients, or washing up after can turn into daunting tasks. Again, this is a reason many seniors rely on processed food that they only have to heat up.

Poor Dental Health

Your teeth age right along with the rest of your body. Missing teeth, poorly fitting dentures, and receding gums can cause jaw pain, mouth sores, and loose teeth. These problems can make it hard to find food that doesn’t aggravate these conditions even more.

Chewing can be painful and uncomfortable for you. You might start avoiding eating healthy foods because it hurts, or it’s too difficult with your mouth. Getting to the dentist adds another challenging layer to this problem for the elderly.

Eight Healthy Nutrients to Boost Elderly Nutrition

The good news is that there are dozens of healthy foods available that can boost your overall nutrition. We’ll outline the nutrients you need, and we’ll give you examples of foods rich in these nutrients. You can incorporate as many of them as possible into your diet.

1 – Calcium

Calcium is a nutrient that plays a significant role in helping our body maintain and build strong bones. Your body needs calcium, so much so that it’ll start to reabsorb it from your bones if you don’t get enough from your diet. When this absorption happens, your bones start to get very brittle and fragile. This lack will eventually lead to you developing osteoporosis.

Ideally, you want at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium each day to give your body the amount it needs to keep your bones healthy. Foods that contain a lot of calcium include things like dairy products like yogurt, milk, and cheese. Certain cereals and leafy green vegetables also come packed with calcium.

Since some people find it hard to get their recommended amount of calcium every day, supplements are available. If this is the case, talk to your doctor about your concerns. They can tell you whether or not a calcium supplement would be the right choice for you.

2 – Fiber

It’s common for your digestive system to start slowing down as you get older. Your gastrointestinal walls begin to thicken. The additional thickness of these walls slows down the force and frequency of your muscle contractions. When this happens, you can get constipated or have trouble going to the bathroom.

Foods that have a high fiber content help to promote proper digestion by pushing food through your gastrointestinal tract. Additionally, they may be able to lower your risk of developing heart disease. You need between 21 and 30 grams of fiber every day.

There are several fiber-rich foods you can eat, including snacks. Wholegrain cereals, nuts, wholegrain pasta and bread, brown bread, brown rice, vegetables, and fruits all have higher levels of fiber.

3 – Iron

Iron is another nutrient that plays a critical role in your body and your various system processes. Most notably, iron produces hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the agent responsible for carrying oxygen in your blood from your lungs to all the other areas of your body. If you don’t get enough iron, you can feel tired, and your extremities like your hands and feet can feel cold.

You need around 18 milligrams of iron every day to keep your hemoglobin levels within their recommended limits. Iron supplements are very popular with people of all ages. Foods that contain high amounts of iron include liver, chicken, lean red meat, tofu, dried fruits like prunes and figs, and fortified breakfast cereals.

4 – Magnesium

Magnesium is a critical component of over 300 physiological functions in your body. It works to keep your immune system active, your heart healthy, and your bones strong. As you get older, your body won’t be able to absorb magnesium as well as it did when you were younger. This situation makes getting your recommended 400 to 420 milligrams.

Medications can also interfere with magnesium absorption. Therefore, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor about a supplement. Eating magnesium-rich foods can help too. Fresh fruit, nuts, whole grains, and vegetables are all excellent sources of magnesium. They also make great snacks!

5 – Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fatty acids are essential to people of all ages because they help control inflammation levels that can lead to heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis. They’re also necessary for slowing down the progression of an eye disease called macular degeneration, and they can help slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. You should plan to get a serving of Omega-3 fatty acids twice a week.

Again, you can try supplements, but you should consult your doctor first. These fatty acids naturally occur in several fish species. Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna are all great sources. Walnuts, canola oil, flaxseed, and soybeans come packed with it as well.

6 – Potassium 

Each day, you should get around 4,700 milligrams of potassium from your diet to keep your levels in an acceptable range. Potassium helps to lower your blood pressure levels, and it also encourages healthy cell function. You’ll have a reduced chance of developing kidney stones, and it can strengthen your bones.

To get your recommended dose of potassium every day, incorporate vegetables and fruits into your diet like potatoes, prunes, or bananas. A single banana has around 420 milligrams of potassium. Supplements are available, but having too much potassium can be dangerous for your health.

7 – Vitamins B12, C, and D

Vitamin B12 is the vitamin responsible for producing red blood cells, maintaining nerve function, and maintaining DNA. Your body stops absorbing this vitamin as much from your food as you get older. You’ll find it naturally-occurring in different dairy products like poultry, milk, and meat. Supplements are popular with this vitamin as well.

Vitamin C comes loaded with antioxidant properties that can help slow the onset of heart disease and fight cancer. This vitamin also encourages healthy collagen production, and collagen gets rid of dead skin while giving your skin elasticity for a youthful look. Vitamin C is in a lot of fruits and vegetables like oranges.

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, and it slows down how fast your bones lose their calcium content to prevent osteoporosis. When you expose your skin to sunlight, it starts to produce vitamin D. Foods packed with this vitamin include yogurt, milk, cereals, and juices. It’s also in tuna, salmon, and eggs.

8 – Water

Being physically active and drinking eight glasses of water per day is very important for your health as you start getting older. Your body can’t conserve water as much as it did when you were younger, and you won’t get thirsty as much. However, it’s still important to drink water every day. If you don’t, you could get dehydrated. Dehydration causes confusion, fatigue, and other, more severe problems.

If you’re on a high-fiber diet, the fiber will absorb more water. You can put your water in small containers and drink it throughout the day, so you don’t get overwhelmed. Take a look at your urine when you go to the bathroom. If it’s transparent or light, you’re hydrated. If it’s bright yellow and cloudy or dark yellow, you’re dehydrated. If you have liver or kidney disease, consult your doctor because there are exceptions to how much you should drink.

Bethany Homes Can Help With Elderly Nutrition

If you have an elderly family member, staying on top of their nutrition can be difficult, especially if they don’t live with you. However, we can help at Bethany Homes. Whether your loved one needs full-time care or you need resources, we’re happy to help locate them for you. Reach out and contact us today for more information.