Nutrition for seniors is essential for maintaining a good quality of life and goes a long way to staying healthy into old age. There is an old adage that says “you are what you eat” (well, it might have been an old adage or it could have been something made up by Weight Watchers but I always remember my mother going on about it to me so it must be true 🙂
We asked Dalia Maori, a qualified nutritionist from the UK, to give us her view on nutrition with particular focus on seniors. When it comes to vitamins and nutrition she is much better placed than us to give advice. Not everyone has the time and money to see a nutritionist or dietitian personally so we thought we would bring the nutritionist to you.
So here is Dalia…..
Our media is full of nutrition and health news, but not very much of it is directed to the senior members of our society. Considering that the numbers of those who are over 65 years old is increasing, it is a shame to see them so side lined in nutritional research and media.
The truth is that good nutrition is vital at all ages.
Older people are sometimes at increased risk for malnutrition because of limitations which may occur due to advanced age: Sometimes a food budget is very low, making it harder to buy nourishing food which is perceived easy to prepare. Alternatively, many widows and widowers find preparing food for one instead of a family demotivating and prefer to snack on something instead. Often these snacks are minimally nutritious (if not purely unhealthy). Physical limitations such as hip or knee problems can limit a person’s ability to prepare food in the kitchen; making processed, convenience (read: not nutritious) food even more understandably tempting.
The truth is, eating a nutritious diet with limited abilities is not so difficult once you know what is possible. The need to have three meals a day in order to be healthy is a myth, a person can do very well on six smaller meals a day, and if a person’s appetite is reduced (common in older age), sometimes small, frequent meals are the best way to get lots of nutrient dense (most nutrition per bite) food in. It is much better to have 6 very small but nutritionally balanced meals rather than 6 not particularly healthy snacks.
As mentioned above many seniors find it hard to cook for one reason or another. To get around this, cook in batches and freeze in small portions. Find what size portion is enough for you and buy some cheap containers or recycle cottage cheese/butter tubs. A recipe that would feed two hungry teenagers might be enough for you to divide up and freeze as 6 meals that you can spread out and eat over the course of a month. The vitamins you need to stay healthy come from inside the food you eat. If you combine some carbohydrates, protein and vegetable in each home prepared frozen meal then you have instant balanced mini-meals for whenever you need.
Here are some key nutritional components that you need, with some advice on how to get them into the diet with the most ease.
Zinc: Zinc is a very important nutrient required to heal via the immune system. It is available in meat, shellfish, beans, whole-grains and pumpkin seeds. Choosing to snack on a few handfuls of raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds daily, having beans on toast or some meatballs which were cooked in a batch, and frozen in single portions, is a tasty way to get this nutrient regularly.
Water: Water is obviously vital for life. As a person ages, the body’s ability to conserve water gradually decreases along with the perception of thirst becoming less acute: this can lead to dehydration which causes a tremendous decrease in energy and a positive mind set. Making sure you have a lovely supply of herbal and fruit teas is a wonderful way to stay hydrated and keeping a water bottle nearby can help to track how much water is actually being drunk.
Fiber: It is common to experience constipation in older age. Ensuring adequate fiber and fluids, as well as physical exercise, is very helpful. The best fiber comes in natural foods (as opposed to processed, boxed cereals which are high in processed fiber which can irritate the gut): Legumes, fruit, vegetables and whole grains such as whole barley, quinoa and brown rice are excellent.
Fat: The wonderful thing about fat is that it is richer in calories than protein or carbohydrate; this means that for a person with limited appetite, they can get more energy per bite eating it. It is very important to verify that unhealthy fats such as margarine, refined oils and processed pastries are not the kind of fat to be eating – they help to promote inflammatory disease. Eating avocados, raw nuts and seeds, olives and adding extra virgin olive oil to food is an excellent way to increase the nutrient density of the diet (and they are also delicious).
Calcium: Calcium is a well-known nutrient, vital for bone and nerve health. These days we’re lucky to be able to buy leafy greens (a good source of calcium) already washed and bagged, so just popping them into a bowl is not too much work, nor is eating a plain, bio yogurt, which is also rich in calcium.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a very important nutrient for bone strength. We get most of our vitamin D from the sun but unfortunately as we age, the skin is less efficient at processing vitamin D so it is wise for older people to take a vitamin D3 supplement daily.
Creativity and flexibility are very important when trying to get adequate nutrition into a person with eating challenges; don’t give up and allow a poor diet to continue in your life or that of a loved one. I have seen wonderful transformations in mood, energy and mental stability in older patients who have been malnourished. Everybody deserves an enjoyable, tasty and nutritious diet.
Here is a link to Dalia’s blog for more advice on nutrition: DaliaNutrition.com
We’d love to hear your view on why seniors generally eat less nutritionally well than the younger generations. Do you manage to keep a balanced diet? Re you making sure you get enough vitamins?