The body’s nutritional requirements change with age, making it difficult for people 50 and older to absorb the nutrients they need. It’s essential to help your loved one maintain a balanced diet to promote healthy living.
Changes That Affect Your Senior’s Diet
Physiological: Your loved one likely expends less energy than they used to, requiring fewer calories to get a sufficient metabolic boost.
Sensory: Taste decreases with age, making salty and sweet foods taste sour and bitter. It’s common for older people to avoid fruits and vegetables because of their taste. Your loved one’s sense of smell will also change over time, which may lead to decreased satisfaction during meals.
Gastrointestinal: Some foods, like fruits and vegetables, cause gas, heartburn and indigestion, but avoiding those foods can lead to vitamin deficiencies. Cheese and other dairy items may cause constipation too.
Emotional and mental: Mealtime can get difficult if your mom or dad has dementia or cognitive decline. Memory loss and a lack of focus distracts seniors from their food during meals. Depression and anxiety also contribute to poor nutrition.
Recommended Daily Nutrition for Seniors
- 5 to 10 ounces of whole grain
- 5 to 2.5 cups of fruit
- 2 to 3.5 cups of vegetables
- 5 to 7 ounces of protein
- 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free dairy
Vitamins and Nutrients Seniors Need
Potassium: This mineral helps maintain body fluids, muscle contractions, nerve impulses and blood pressure. Bananas, potatoes, salmon and beans are good sources of potassium.
Fiber: Getting the right amount of fiber regulates bowel movements. Fiber also lowers your loved one’s risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. It’s found in whole grains, cereals, beans, apples, strawberries and avocados.
Folate: This nutrient is a form of Vitamin B and protects cells against harmful changes. Folate is necessary for the body to produce proteins that build and repair tissue. It’s found in leafy green vegetables, cauliflower, citrus fruit, or in vitamin supplements as folic acid.
Zinc: This mineral metabolizes carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It also promotes DNA and insulin production. Foods like dark chocolate, shellfish, seeds and dairy contain high concentrations of zinc.
Vitamin B12: B12 promotes healthy red blood cell production, lowers the risk of osteoporosis, and supports memory function. B12-fortified cereal, lean meats, fish and seafood are good sources of B12.
Vitamin C: This water-soluble vitamin has antioxidant properties that neutralize the DNA-altering effects of free radicals. It also helps the body form white blood cells, which fend off infection. Vitamin C is found in oranges, strawberries, pineapple, bell peppers and broccoli.
Calcium and Vitamin D: You can’t have one without the other. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, and both are needed to maintain strong bones. Vitamin D is found in fatty fish, eggs and dairy products. Leafy greens, fortified cereals, cheese, yogurt and sardines contain lots of calcium.
Vitamin E: Like Vitamin C, this fat-soluble vitamin protects the body from free radicals that can cause cancer. Almonds, sunflower seeds, spinach, trout, shrimp and olive oil are packed with Vitamin E.
Foods Seniors Should Avoid
It’s important to limit solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS) in your senior’s diet. Common sources of SoFAS include:
- Rice and pasta
- Desserts and sweets
- High-fat milk and yogurt
- Cream-based dressings
Reduced immunity also means seniors should avoid consuming undercooked or raw food to avoid bacterial diseases. Here are some raw foods to avoid:
- Unpasteurized cheese
- Oysters, mussels and clams
- Lightly cooked eggs
- Brussels sprouts
- Meats like carpaccio