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The food, caloric, vitamin, and mineral intakes noted below are taken from the average recommended guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its subsidiaries.1 They are general guidelines and do not replace the recommendations provided by your doctor. Additionally, any specific health or nutrition concerns that you have should be discussed directly with your doctor.
Learning all about good nutrition for seniors is a wise move, but you should also know the warning signs of poor nutrition. You or your loved one may experience symptoms that point to a nutritional deficiency that can be resolved with dietary changes. If you suspect any kind of deficiency, then follow up with your doctor in order to be properly tested. Here are some common signs that may indicate that certain vitamins or minerals are lacking from your or your family member's diet:
Weight loss is a common concern for many older seniors. It may become necessary to eat every two or three hours, eat larger portions at the time of day when your appetite is strongest, incorporate healthy fats into your diet, make healthy smoothies for snacks, and have a healthy bedtime snack. Additionally, if you smoke, then speak to a healthcare professional about resources that can help you quit. (Smoking can reduce your appetite and ability to taste.)
Unfortunately, the most affordable foods are also some of the most unhealthy, so poverty can drive malnutrition. A diet that is rich in calories but bereft of nutrients will cause one to simultaneously gain weight and develop deficiency diseases (illnesses caused by lack of vitamins). This results in a bizarre phenomenon unique to developed nations, which is the presence of seniors (and sometimes adults in other age groups) who are simultaneously malnourished and overweight.
If you don’t think you or your loved one is getting adequate minerals and nutrients from the food you eat, see a registered dietitian, nurse practitioner or doctor to get a prescription for a multivitamin. Our bodies need adequate vitamin D to absorb calcium. Food is the best way to obtain nutrition, but it can be difficult to achieve adequate intake through food alone. If symptoms of weakening bones or osteoporosis are already present, then a multivitamin with vitamin D added is the more suitable choice.
Most gerontologists agree that the root cause of physiological losses associated with aging—i.e., loss of muscle, skin elasticity, or changes to organ function—result from normal wear and tear to cells that die and are not replaced. Therefore, the effects of cell loss accumulate over time. Though some degree of decline is normal and unavoidable, many individuals may exhibit excellent health well into the “older adult” phase. The Greeks referred to this appearance of vibrancy and youth with age as “agerasia.”
Developing a snack plan for your day or week can help you consume nutritious foods on a regular basis. Be creative. There are countless possible combinations of grains, nuts and seeds, cheeses, and fruits and vegetables. So don't be afraid to try new things. Many grocery stores even sell already-prepared healthy snacks. Just be sure to check the labels on prepared items. Pay particular attention to their sodium and sugar content.
While one highly publicized study suggested that those who are moderately overweight have slightly longer lifespans, other studies, such as this one at Oxford University, associated being moderately overweight with a decreased lifespan. The overweight, or obese, are said to experience lifespans 10 years less than average according to the Oxford study.