Many families worry about senior nutrition. You want to ensure your parents are eating correctly, digesting properly, and making healthy choices. In this blog, we came up with a great list of tips and resources for senior nutrition.

Keep reading for our comprehensive nutrition advice, or use the table of contents below to navigate to a topic directly.  

What You Will Learn In This Guide:

Is Your Aging Parent Eating Well?

Here’s a telling number: More than half of senior citizens in America are malnourished when admitted to the hospital. Widowed and other older Americans living alone and those living in nursing homes are the most likely to suffer from poor senior nutrition.

Malnutrition in the elderly can lead to:

  • lack of energy
  • constipation
  • severe anemia
  • bone loss
  • poor wound healing
  • and increased hospital readmissions.

If you are caring for an aging parent or employed as a home helper, you can take crucial action now. Help your loved ones maintain a healthy diet as they age.

Why Eating Alone Is Bad for Seniors

Unlike teenagers who may be squandering their calories on fast food or grabbing candy bars on the go, malnutrition in the elderly has unique causes. The first is isolation, eating so many meals alone. Eating is a social activity, and eating in isolation day after day can lead to depression and dangerous declines in nutrition.

Why Senior Nutrition Rapidly Declines

People with age and memory issues have trouble preparing healthy meals and snacks. Sometimes it even becomes difficult to chew or enjoy the foods that once kept them well-nourished. Reasons why senior nutrition declines might include:

  • A gradual decline in the sense of taste and smell can reduce appetites and make food less enjoyable.
  • Medication side effects can cause mild nausea or make certain foods taste different.
  • Jaw pain or missing teeth make it harder to chew.
  • Frailty may make healthy meal preparation difficult.
  • Forgetfulness can lead to skipping meals or forgetting to vary their food choices.
  • Lack of transportation to a decent supermarket can limit access to fresh fruits and vegetables and lead to more reliance on canned or boxed food.

Healthy Eating Is a Team Effort

You can achieve a proper diet and great nutritional habits despite these obstacles. For seniors living alone, it’s essential to their well-being that they have someone to share meals with regularly, whether it’s a relative or professional companionship care. 

By now, you may have heard of the USDA’s “MyPlate” nutritional guidelines. But did you know that Tufts University in Boston has unveiled a MyPlate for Older Adults? Better yet, nutrition experts have identified five key senior nutrition needs to prioritize. You can refer to these guidelines when shopping and planning meals for your aging parent or relative.

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Why There’s a MyPlate for Older Adults

The old USDA “food pyramid” is dead. In 2011, there were new USDA food guidelines and a new image called “My Plate.” All adults have the same basic nutritional needs, but getting our nutrients changes as we age. After age 70, our dietary needs are affected by health issues such as:

  • high blood pressure
  • lowered activity levels
  • slower metabolism
  • reduced gut function

Tufts University’s USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging studied these changing needs. As a result, they created MyPlate for Older Adults, a quick visual guide to healthy senior meals.

The 4 Main Ingredients for Planning Nutritious Senior Meals

MyPlate for Older Adults consists of four parts: three food groups and a beverage.

  1. The fruit and vegetable group takes up half the plate. Half of the senior meals should consist of fresh produce with vibrant colors and nutrients: dark greens, deeply colored berries, and orange vegetables like sweet potatoes. You can supplement fresh produce with low-sodium canned vegetables and canned fruit in its juice to save money or time.
  2. The next quarter of the plate shows options for whole grain, enriched and fortified grain foods because these grains and pieces of bread provide much better nutrition and fiber than refined grains and are necessary for senior wellness.
  3. The final quarter of the plate combines low- or non-fat dairy foods and plant source protein foods, and lean meats and fish.
  4. In the beverage circle, you’ll see several glasses of water, tea, juice, and other liquids. Dehydration is a common problem for the elderly, so it’s vital to encourage plenty of beverages throughout the day.

Relying on the four MyPlate for Older Adults food groups will make planning nutritious senior meals much easier. You should talk to a primary care doctor about your aging parents’ daily diet if you have any questions.

9 Ways to Bolster Senior Nutrition

Suppose your aging parents or other relatives are over 65 and near a major city like Boston. In that case, they have access to some premium doctors, hospitals, and senior care services in the USA. Even so, we’d all rather keep our loved ones as independent as possible to avoid lengthy hospital stays. One of the best ways of doing that is to ensure proper senior nutrition.

There are other obstacles to senior nutrition related to aging, such as:

  • loss of appetite
  • loss of sense of smell
  • inability to plan and prepare healthy meals
  • and days of eating alone.

As a caregiver for your aging parent, knowing these issues, you can help them make better food choices and get the help or companionship needed to see that they aren’t skipping meals or eating junk.

Plan Out Dietary Restrictions and Schedules

First, take into account any dental, appetite, or digestive issues. 

1) If they have trouble chewing, try using ground beef or turkey, eggs, and other softer proteins instead of serving tough cuts of meat.

2) Avoid foods that cause indigestion or heartburn. Common culprits are beans, cabbage, onions, celery, raisins, and dried fruit. Carbonated beverages and artificial sweeteners can also cause gas build-up or bloating.

3) Make sure they have can and jar openers they can use easily. Give reminders over the phone about specific healthy food they like and reminders not to skip meals.

4) One of the best things you can do is make sure you or an in-home care companion helps plan meals and eats with the older adult. Eating alone has been shown to lead to loss of appetite, poor nutrition, and depression in too many cases.

Plan Out Meal Prep

Now that you’ve identified what types of restrictions and schedules your loved one needs, you can start preparing healthy meals.

5) Fill half the plate with colorful vegetables and fruit.

6) For heart health, switch to skim or low-fat (1%) milk.

7) Add fiber to the diet with fortified whole grains and cereals.

8) Compare sodium on food labels for soup, bread, and frozen meals.

9) Encourage frequent beverages, mostly water, and decaf tea or coffee. Non-diabetics can drink juice in addition to water. Ask their doctor if you’re not sure.

Understand How Much to Eat

Eating a mix of healthy foods every day provides the nutrients, fiber, and calories your body needs. The amount you should eat depends on your age, whether you are a man or woman, and your height and weight. It also depends on your level of physical activity. The more physically active you are, the more calories you might eat without gaining weight. Most people in the United States eat more calories than they need.

Daily Calorie Levels for Women

A woman over age 50 should consume about

  • 1,600 calories a day if her level of physical activity is low (only performs activities associated with typical day-to-day life)
  • 1,800 calories daily if she is moderately active (walks the equivalent of 1.5 to 3 miles a day at 3 to 4 miles per hour)
  • 2,000 to 2,200 calories daily if she has an active lifestyle (walks the equivalent of more than 3 miles a day at 3 to 4 miles per hour).

Daily Calorie Levels for Men

  • 2,000 to 2,200 calories a day if his level of physical activity is low (only performs activities associated with typical day-to-day life)
  • 2,200 to 2,400 calories daily if he is moderately active (walks the equivalent of 1.5 to 3 miles a day at 3 to 4 miles per hour)
  • 2,400 to 2,800 calories daily if he has an active lifestyle (walks the equivalent of more than 3 miles a day at 3 to 4 miles per hour).

Senior Nutrition Resources for Caregivers

The Meals on Wheels program brings nutritious prepared midday meals to eligible homebound seniors age 60 or older and their spouses. For Meals on Wheels service information in Lexington, Carlisle, Acton, Arlington, and Bedford, go to the Mass Resources Website. 

With healthy senior nutrition, your loved one should be able to stay at home longer and suffer fewer serious setbacks, which means fewer worries for you. If you have your questions about companion services that include meal prep or transportation to senior meals, contact us today.

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