The Unique Nutritional Needs of Seniors

Eating well and staying active is important at any age. But, our nutritional needs change as we grow older. Seniors have unique dietary requirements for promoting health, improving quality of life, and extending vitality.

While proper nutrition is essential for aging in place, many seniors do not have access to the foods they need to stay healthy and active. Poor nutrition and malnutrition in older adults can be caused by many different factors, including decreased appetite, limited income, depression, and reduced social contact.

Senior malnutrition is more common than you might realize. A 2016 report by Feeding America and National Foundation to End Senior Hunger revealed that 4.9 million seniors are food insecure, meaning they do not have access to a sufficient amount of affordable, nutritious food.

 As community members and caregivers, we need to promote positive aging by understanding senior nutrition and advocating for solutions to food insecurity in older adults.

How Our Bodies Change As We Age

As we grow older, our bodies change. So, it makes sense that our nutritional needs also change.

Knowing how these changes affect nutritional needs can help you and your loved ones stay healthy. Here are some changes that happen as we age that affect nutritional needs:

Changes in our senses

Perceptual changes can influence our nutrition, such as a change in hearing, smell, or taste.

As we age, a loss in hearing can change the way we experience food. Being unable to hear and hold a conversation with others at a restaurant or social gathering can be frustrating. This can limit a senior’s food experience and, in some cases, make them less apt to engage in these kinds of situations.

Sense of smell impacts the foods we choose to eat. A loss of satisfaction can lead to poor food choices and less nutritious meals.

Sometimes, our sense of taste weakens as we grow older. When taste buds decrease, so does our taste for anything salty or sweet. This can make food taste bitter or sour.

Physical changes

Physical health plays a large role in our nutritional needs.

Energy expenditure tends to decrease as we age because of decreasing metabolic rates and physical activity. When this occurs, we do not need to consume as many calories. Functional changes in our body’s composition and changes to our nervous system also affect nutritional needs.

Changes in our teeth

The makeup of our mouths has a lot to do with what we choose to eat. Loss of teeth or poorly fitting dentures can lead some individuals to avoid certain foods or have difficulty eating.

Gastrointestinal changes

Aging can contribute to changes in the digestive system. This can cause us to avoid healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. However, these kinds of foods are an important part of a healthy diet.

Many factors contribute to our nutritional health beyond our bodies, including behavioral health issues, social isolation, and financial restrictions.

Help for seniors

A holistic approach to wellness can help resolve some issues that lead to poor nutrition. For example, receiving treatment for depression could positively affect a person’s appetite and willingness to eat in a social environment.

Often, poor nutrition in seniors is a result of not having the finances to afford regular fresh foods. Programs and services exist to help low-income seniors in need.

The Ohio Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program encourages older adults to make healthy food choices for improved health. Farmers’ market vouchers are designed to help seniors get fresh fruits and vegetables as an important part of federal dietary guidelines.

Older adults age 60 and older who meet income guidelines may qualify for $50 worth of coupons to be used at local farmers’ markets for fresh produce, herbs, and honey grown locally.

Home-delivered meal programs like Meals on Wheels bring nutritious meals to the doorsteps of homebound seniors and people with disabilities. Through these kinds of programs, seniors get the nutrients they need, have positive food experiences, and stay independent in their own homes.

VANTAGE Meals on Wheels offers home-delivered meals from a choice menu throughout Summit County. The program also oversees the Ohio Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programvouchers for Summit County and Stark/Wayne Counties.

Making healthy choices

To make nutritious choices, you need to know what foods are recommended as healthy but the experts. USDA Food Patterns suggests that people 50 and older choose healthy foods each day from the following categories:

  • Fruits = 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups
  • Vegetables = 2 to 3 ½ cups
  • Grains = 5 to 10 ounces (Examples include a slice of bread, a cup of flaked, ready-to-eat cereal, or a ½ cup of rice or pasta)
  • Proteins = 5 to 7 ounces (Examples include an egg, ¼ cup of beans, ½ ounce of nuts, or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • Dairy = 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk
  • Oils – 5 to 8 teaspoons (In addition to oil when cooking, you can include olives, nuts, and avocados)
  • Keep the solid fats and added sugars to a minimum

Before making any changes to your diet, check with your doctor or a dietitian. They will recommend the best dietary plan for your nutritional needs.

Interested in Meals on Wheels home-delivered meals? Call us today for a free sample at 330-785-9770 or learn more here.

*The information in this article is intended solely to provide general information on matters of interest for the personal use of the reader, who accepts full responsibility for its use. This article should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, medical, or other competent advisors.

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