- Key Points
- How Do Nutritional Needs Change with Aging?
- What Nutritional Advice is Recommended for the Elderly?
- What Foods Should Elderly People Eat?
- Why Is It Hard for Seniors To Eat a Healthy Diet?
- How Can Nutrition for Elderly Folks be Improved?
- What if You Still Can’t Eat Healthy Meals?
- A Seven-Day Meal Plan For Seniors
- Start Your Road To Healthy Senior Eating Today
Aging changes the nutritional needs of seniors.
Seniors over 60 have greater nutritional needs but need fewer calories.
Aging can create challenges to consuming a nutritious diet.
Follow these nutrition tips for seniors to cultivate healthy daily habits.
What’s the secret to a healthy, active lifestyle during your senior years? Eating healthy is important at any age, but it’s especially critical for seniors since food has such a great impact on health and aging. Some simple nutrition tips for seniors can help you achieve the diet you need.
Years of research have shown that diet quality has a huge impact on physical condition, cognitive condition, bone health, eye health, vascular function, and the immune system. As you age, you need fewer calories, but your nutritional needs increase. It’s important to develop healthy habits to eat well, get all the nutrients you need, and age with good health. These nutrition tips for seniors will help you choose food with the nutrition you need.
How Do Nutritional Needs Change with Aging?
As you grow from a small child through the rapid growth of puberty into active adult life and again in your senior years, your nutritional needs change. Once you are over 60, and even more after the age of 70, your dietary needs shift in several ways:
If you are like most people, you become less active once you pass the age of 60 or 70. Your metabolism slows and your need for calories decreases. This means you need to eat less.
As you age, you can’t absorb and utilize many nutrients as efficiently as you once did. At the same time, your nutrient requirements increase. This difference is so substantial that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has revised nutrition recommendations for people aged 70 and above.
Chronic health conditions and medications can affect your nutrition requirements. For example, some nutrients affect your body’s ability to metabolize the drugs you are taking. In other cases, a medication can cause nutrients to be poorly absorbed.
What Nutritional Advice is Recommended for the Elderly?
The best diet for a person over 70 is one that’s balanced and includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods. This includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. It’s also important for older adults to stay hydrated and to limit their intake of added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.
Seniors also need to pay extra attention to getting enough calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 in their diet.
Take a look at the healthful benefits of these nutrients and the foods that provide a good dietary source.
Protein To Maintain Muscle Mass and Support Wound Healing
Adequate protein is very important for older adults. If you don’t consume enough protein, you may experience a decrease in reserve capacity, increased skin fragility, decreased immune function, poorer healing, and longer recuperation from illness.
Protein is abundant in seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy products.
Calcium and Vitamin D for Bone Health
Calcium is a mineral that plays an important role in the health of adults over age 60. Over 99 percent of calcium found in the body is stored in the bones and teeth. Calcium is vital for keeping the bones healthy and also plays a role in proper muscle function, nerve transmission, and hormone secretion.
When you get too little calcium, it can lead to osteoporosis which causes weak, fragile bones and increases the risk of falling.
Many people know that dairy foods are rich in calcium, but calcium is not only found in dairy. Fruits, leafy greens, beans, nuts, and some starchy vegetables are also good sources.
Some foods abundant in calcium include dairy (cow, goat, sheep) and fortified plant-based milk (almond, soy, rice), cheese, yogurt, calcium-fortified orange juice, winter squash, edamame (young green soybeans), tofu (when made with calcium sulfate), canned sardines, salmon (with bones), almonds, and leafy greens like collard, mustard, turnip, kale, bok choy, and spinach.
Vitamin B12 For Red Blood Cell Formation
Vitamin B12 helps to keep both your blood and your brain healthy. It aids in forming DNA, creating and reproducing red blood cells, and ensuring proper nerve function. Low vitamin B12 levels may be linked to an increased risk of bone fractures. Plus, vitamin B12 helps to metabolize an amino acid known as homocysteine which has been linked to cognitive decline in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
Some good sources of vitamin B12 include meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, and some fortified breakfast cereals. If you don’t consume animal products, it’s essential to seek out fortified foods and supplements that meet your need for vitamin B12.
Vitamin B6 and Folate For Cognitive Function
Vitamin B6 and folate are water-soluble B vitamins that play a role in metabolism and immune function and are involved in over 100 different enzyme reactions in the body. Vitamin B6 and folate may even play a role in maintaining cognition during aging.
Vitamin B6 and folate are very important for older adults. Approximately 24 percent of women and 31 percent of men are at risk of vitamin B6 deficiency.
Fortunately, vitamin B6 is found in a wide variety of animal and plant foods: beef liver, tuna, salmon, fortified cereals, chickpeas, poultry, and some vegetables and fruits — especially dark leafy greens, bananas, papayas, oranges, and cantaloupe.
Folate is found in many foods as well and is frequently added to foods and sold as a supplement in the form of folic acid. This form is better absorbed by the body than that from food sources, so rest assured you are getting enough folate regardless of which source you choose.
Fiber To Support Digestion and Prevent Constipation
Fiber is an important nutrient for older adults, and many seniors do not eat enough of it. At this point in your life, fiber is more important in your diet than ever: After age 60, you may have a slower metabolism, less muscle mass, and get less physical activity than you did when you were younger.
Fiber helps to prevent constipation and can improve your heart health. It can also help to control blood sugar levels. Eating more plant-based foods is a good way to meet your fiber needs.
Some good sources of fiber include whole grains, beans, pears, avocados, raspberries, artichokes, oats, and chia seeds.
Antioxidants to Support Overall Health
Free radicals aren’t a fringe political group. Your body generates free radicals when it turns food into energy, and free radicals are formed after exercising or by exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollution, and sunlight.
Free radicals are inevitable. They attack the cells in the body and can contribute to the aging process. They may also play a role in diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Your body is prepared with defenses against free radicals, and that’s where antioxidants come in. Antioxidants are chemicals that help stop or limit the damage caused by free radicals. The good news is that many foods are rich sources of antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E.
Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of vitamin C – particularly citrus fruits and berries. Tomatoes, bell peppers, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower all contain vitamin C. White potatoes also provide a hefty dose of the big C.
Vitamin E is found in plant-based oils, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Some great sources include wheat germ, sunflower, safflower, and soybean oils; sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, and peanut butter; greens like beet greens, collard greens, and spinach; and pumpkin and red bell pepper.
What Foods Should Elderly People Eat?
Elderly folks should aim to eat a balanced diet of a variety of nutrient-dense foods. This includes:
Fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and oats are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Lean protein comes from fish, poultry, lean meats, eggs, and legumes.
Low-fat dairy like milk, yogurt, and cheese are good sources of calcium and other essential nutrients.
Healthy fats can be found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil.
It's also important to stay hydrated and limit your intake of added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.
Many seniors find that they need to eat less than they used to maintain a healthy weight. But some seniors have the opposite experience and struggle to eat enough to keep their weight up.
If you are used to grabbing fast food or a quick frozen meal, you may find it overwhelming to incorporate so many new foods into your diet. Focus on one thing at a time, says Jackie Newgent, a plant-forward registered dietitian nutritionist:
"For instance, a goal could be to enjoy at least one vegetable serving in any way you want for weekday breakfasts–think a side salad (yes, salad is for breakfast, too!), a veggie and fruit smoothie, savory oatmeal, sweet potato hash browns, roasted peppers on top of your avocado toast, last night's vegetables in your eggs or plant-based eggs, or a breakfast-inspired crudite [sic] board."
Why Is It Hard for Seniors To Eat a Healthy Diet?
There are unique challenges for seniors who are trying to eat a healthy diet.
For example, aging is often accompanied by a loss of appetite and changes in taste and smell. This might cause you to enjoy fewer kinds of foods and consume fewer healthy foods. Plus, it’s common to experience a decline in your oral health and experience more difficulty swallowing, which can affect your food choices and how much you eat.
Many older adults experience mobility constraints which make things like shopping for food, lifting heavy jars, and opening containers more difficult. Seniors often live on low incomes which makes it difficult to purchase high-quality foods.
How Can Nutrition for Elderly Folks be Improved?
It can seem daunting to prepare and eat a healthy diet every day — especially as your appetite, energy levels, and mobility are changing. But the key to eating well is building healthy habits.
Here are 10 habits you can incorporate into your lifestyle today to improve your health and nutrition:
Habit #1. Eat Breakfast Every Day: Starting your day with a nutritious breakfast sets you up for success throughout the day. Try making a smoothie with fresh fruits and vegetables or opt for oatmeal with nuts and berries.
Habit #2. Stock Up On Healthy Snacks: When hunger pangs arise between meals, it’s easy to grab unhealthy snacks like chips or fast food. Instead, stock up on healthier snacks like apples and peanut butter, hummus and carrots, or yogurt with granola. These provide your body with essential nutrients and keep your cravings at bay.
Habit #3. Incorporate More Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are low in calories yet high in nutrients like vitamins A and C which help boost immunity from common illnesses such as colds or the flu. Fruits and vegetables are also high in fiber which keeps digestion regular. Aim to include one serving of each at every meal.
Habit #4. Use Smaller Plates: The larger your plate is, the more likely you are to fill it up with food – even if you don't need (or want) it all. Using smaller plates helps keep portion sizes down which can reduce your caloric consumption while still providing a full meal's worth of nutrition.
Habit #5. Drink Plenty Of Water: Staying hydrated is key for overall health. Adequate fluid intake keeps digestion regular while providing essential electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium. These minerals are necessary for proper muscle function and nerve transmission, amongst others. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day also helps increase satiety so you don’t overeat during meals.
Habit #6. Cut Back On Processed Foods: Processed foods tend to be higher in sodium levels than unprocessed options. They’re also often lower in nutrients like vitamins and minerals as well as fiber which helps promote good digestion and regularity. Opting for fresh fruits and veggies instead of canned or frozen versions can help reduce salt content while still providing essential nutrients.
Habit #7. Read Nutritional Labels: Nutritional labels provide valuable information regarding what is inside a particular food item. Use this information to make better choices when you are choosing groceries or eating out at restaurants.
Habit #8. Prepare Meals Ahead Of Time: Preparing meals ahead of time makes it easier to stick to a healthy diet. You’ll have an arsenal of nutritious options available when hunger strikes without having to rely on convenience foods that may not be as healthy.
Habit #9. Avoid Skipping Meals: Skipping meals can lead to overeating later due to excessive hunger. Try incorporating small snacks throughout the day when you feel hungry, so you don’t overeat.
Habit #10. Make Mealtime a Social Event: Meals are more enjoyable when you share them with others. Researchers have found that sharing mealtime increases your sense of well-being, lowers the occurrence of depression, and strengthens your sense of belonging and purpose. Try inviting a friend to join you or take part in a potluck at least once a week.
What if You Still Can’t Eat Healthy Meals?
Sometimes you know what you need to eat, but you aren’t able to do it. As you age, you may experience a poor appetite, less mobility, isolation, or poor digestion. These tips may help you cope with the mealtime changes you are experiencing, so you can still eat a healthy diet:
Make food more appealing and easier to eat by using visually appealing plates, choosing finger foods, or trying a variety of textures and flavors.
Engage in physical activity to maintain muscle mass, aid in digestion, and stimulate your appetite.
Ask for help if you have difficulty shopping or preparing food.
Focus on maintaining your independence — including your ability to make food choices — as much as possible.
Choose fortified foods or supplements to fill the gaps for specific nutrient deficiencies.
A Seven-Day Meal Plan For Seniors
Changing your meal routine and making healthy choices can be a challenge. Here are seven days of simple, healthy meals to get you started on the right track:
Breakfast: Greek yogurt with berries and a drizzle of honey
Lunch: Grilled chicken breast with steamed vegetables and brown rice
Dinner: Roasted salmon with quinoa and sautéed spinach
Breakfast: Smoothie bowl with Greek yogurt, berries, and a spoonful of granola
Lunch: Grilled cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread with tomato soup
Dinner: Beef stir-fry with vegetables and brown rice
Breakfast: Oatmeal with banana and a glass of orange juice
Lunch: Tuna salad sandwich on whole wheat bread with cucumber slices
Dinner: Baked chicken with roasted sweet potatoes and green beans
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with whole wheat toast and avocado slices
Lunch: Turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread with carrot sticks
Dinner: Baked fish with steamed broccoli and brown rice
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with whole wheat toast and turkey sausage
Lunch: Turkey and cheese wrap with hummus and carrot sticks
Dinner: Pork tenderloin with roasted Brussels sprouts and quinoa
Breakfast: Whole wheat waffles with turkey bacon and apple juice
Lunch: Caesar salad with grilled chicken breast and whole wheat croutons
Dinner: Vegetable lasagna with a mixed greens salad
Breakfast: Greek yogurt with berries and a drizzle of honey
Lunch: Chicken and vegetable soup with whole wheat crackers
Dinner: Turkey meatballs with spaghetti squash and green beans
Start Your Road To Healthy Senior Eating Today
Eating healthy doesn't have to be complicated. Once you’ve incorporated these healthy habits into your lifestyle, you'll soon find yourself feeling energized and ready for whatever life throws at you next.
Change is hard, but try taking baby steps. Choose one new habit today and stick with it until it becomes second nature. Then add another one on top and before you know it, eating healthy will come naturally and easily no matter where you are in life.
With these tips you’ll be enjoying the health benefits of your nutritious and delicious meals in your senior years.