This issue is especially relevant to seniors because difficulty cooking can cause a senior to adopt a diet where the main staple is a pre-packaged meal or an unhealthy indulgence of a particular food group. Even seniors who are attempting to gain weight should eat a balanced diet rather than fill themselves with foods that are high in fat, salt, and sugar or low in nutrients.
When it comes to nutrition and seniors, this part of the topic is essential to understand. Certain vitamins and minerals are critical for good physical and mental health. And, as you age, some become more important than others. Check out the most vital ones below, and learn how much of them to consume, what the best food sources are, and what to watch for as potential signs of deficiency.
Older individuals may be at risk for low B12 due to less intake of foods containing this vitamin and decreased stomach acid secretion, which can inhibit conversion of B12 into a usable form. Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal source foods, such as meat, eggs, fish, and dairy products. It also can be added to fortified foods such as breakfast cereals in a crystalline form, which is better absorbed by those in the older population. This crystalline form is not dependent on stomach acid for absorption, making it more bioavailable.
More than 1 in 3 seniors in the care of others is at risk for under- or mal-nutrition (Mayo Clinic/American Dietetic Association). Malnutrition is the lack of proper nutrition, not necessarily a lack of food. Detecting malnutrition in seniors may be difficult, and even seniors who eat enough may be eating the wrong foods to keep themselves healthy. At Comfort Keepers®, we help seniors live healthy, independent lives and promote senior nutrition through the Nourish Senior Life® initiative.
Make a point of avoiding added sugars and saturated fats and increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids and flavonoid-rich foods. Flavonoids are plant compounds that have shown anti-inflammatory, antithrombogenic, antidiabetic, anticancer and neuroprotective benefits. Dark berries, cocoa, tea, soy, citrus fruits, red wine and nightshade vegetables are just a few examples of ingredients that are high in these phytonutrients. A primarily plant-based diet will help promote immune function.
Do you want to make cooking and eating more enjoyable? Try new recipes on a regular basis and learn how to use a variety of herbs and spices. Eat with your family or friends whenever possible. And exercise prior to your meals in order to help stimulate your appetite. You can also speak to your doctor or pharmacist to find out whether any of your medications cause decreased appetite or loss of taste, which can negatively affect your enjoyment of food.
What’s more, simple causes such as a decreased sense of taste or dental problems can lead to seniors eating less and make it appear as though their appetite has decreased when it hasn’t. Seniors should weigh themselves (or be weighed by their caregivers) periodically to look for changes. Any sudden weight loss should be seen as a red flag and warrants a visit to the doctor.