Maintaining healthy eating habits can be a challenge for anyone. A busy person on the go may neglect his or her nutritional needs. People on a budget may find it difficult to obtain inexpensive healthy food. Someone might simply not care for the taste of certain items on a healthy food list or have a persistent craving for junk food.
Still, with all that said, healthy eating is even more of a challenge for seniors. With a decreased activity level comes a diminished overall calorie requirement. Your sense of taste may not be as sharp as it once was, which makes you less inclined to eat for pleasure.
Yet as you’re likely eating less, your metabolism has slowed down, and you’re not absorbing essential nutrients as efficiently as you once did. That means that pretty much everything you do eat should be an item from the healthy food list.
Even when trying to follow healthy eating habits, though, seniors may not get all the nutrients they really need. According to the World Health Organization, the majority of diseases contracted by people over 50 arise from the lack of a truly adequate diet.
Nutritional Challenges for Seniors
Seniors often face the following special challenges, some of which can in turn lead to poor nutrition or, conversely, reflect a lack of proper nutrition:
Diminished sensitivity. As noted above, when the senses that grow dull are taste and smell, this can result in reduced appetite.
Poor dental health.Missing teeth, loose teeth, receding gums, mouth sores, and jaw pain can make eating uncomfortable and unpleasant.
Lack of physical fitness.Arthritis and disability can make it difficult to remain physically fit. Simply standing, carrying objects, or other formerly routine can become demanding and uncomfortable.
Lack of micronutrients.Seniors are often deficient in essential micronutrients including vitamins C, D, and E, calcium, and iron due to reduced appetite and/or insufficient variety in their diets.
Degenerative diseases.Illnesses like diabetes and osteoporosis are related to a lack of micronutrients.
Memory loss. Sadly, many seniors suffer from memory loss, Alzheimer’s, and dementia, and these conditions all relate to nutritional deficiency.
Side effects of medication.Many seniors take prescription medications. The medications can make them sick to their stomachs, suppress appetite, and change the way food tastes. All of which can result in skipping meals.
The good news is that just as these problems can reflect poor nutrition, good nutrition can often prevent or control them. Accordingly, seniors should make sure that as they look for healthy things to eat, they’re getting all of the following:
Healthy Nutrition for Seniors: Vitamins
Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is found in meat, poultry, milk, and other dairy products. It helps the production of red blood cells and the proper maintenance of neural functioning and DNA.
Vitamin C.Vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetables. It promotes the healing of wounds and helps repair damaged bones and teeth. Additionally, many scientists believe its antioxidant properties help prevent heart disease and cancer.
Vitamin D.Vitamin D is found in eggs and certain fish including tuna and salmon. Also, the skin produces it when a person is out in the sun (the catch here is that other health concerns may make it a good idea to limit your exposure to the sun.) Vitamin D can help to prevent type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid osteoporosis, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other chronic illnesses. Additionally, it’s necessary for the absorption of calcium in the body and slows the rate at which the bones lose calcium.
Healthy Eating for Seniors: Minerals
Calcium is available in dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt. You can also get it in leafy vegetables and cereal fortified with calcium. Calcium helps to keep blood pressure in the proper range and is necessary for strong, healthy bones. If you’re not getting enough, the body reabsorbs it from the bones, which then become fragile and brittle. This leads to osteoporosis.
Iron is found in dried fruits like apricots, prunes, and raisins, chickpeas, soybeans, baked, red, and white beans, lentils, and peas. You need iron to make hemoglobin, the substance in the blood that conducts oxygen from the lungs to everywhere else inside you. If you don’t get enough iron, you end up feeling tired, lethargic, and run down.
You can get magnesium from vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts, and whole grains. It promotes bone heath, heart health, and a strong immune system.
You can get potassium in vegetables and fruit including potatoes, bananas, and prunes.
Healthy Nutrition for Seniors: Further Considerations
Seniors should make sure they’re paying attention to the following elements of a healthy diet as well:
Fiber-rich food. The list of fiber-rich foods includes fruits and vegetables, brown rice, wholegrain bread, wholegrain pasta, and wholegrain cereal. They lessen the risk of heart disease and fight indigestion. As we age, the walls of the gastrointestinal tract grow thicker. At the same time, contractions slow. Together, these factors can lead to constipation, but fiber-rich food combats it.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. You can find Omega-3 fatty acids in fish. Sardines, tuna, salmon, and mackerel are all excellent sources, and you can also get them in walnuts, soybeans, and flaxseed. They combat the inflammation that can lead to heart problems, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, Omega-3 fatty acids slow the progression of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), a deterioration that damages a senior’s eyesight.
Everyone needs to drink water to live and be healthy, but with age can come a reduced capacity to hold water in the body and diminished thirst. Seniors can finesse this diminished thirst by drinking relatively small amounts of water but making sure they do this fairly frequently throughout the day. Their physicians can advise them as to how much water they should be drinking, or, as a rough and ready indicator, they can check their urine. Light, transparent urine means a person is properly hydrated. Bright, cloudy urine or dark urine is a sign that the person is not. (Liver or kidney disease can affect this, though. Patients who suffer from such an illness can look to their doctors for guidance.)
Seniors who pay attention to these healthy eating habits are far more likely to remain vital and active during this period of their lives.