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.
“Rough up” your diet. Include a variety of high-fiber foods every day, such as raw fruits and vegetables and whole grains. These foods help cut down on constipation; provide the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and nutrients that you need for healthy aging; help maintain your weight; and reduce your risk of heart problems. If you’re not sure you’re getting enough fiber, talk to your doctor about supplements.
Omega-3 fatty acids—There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). It's recommended that all adult men and women consume 1.6 grams or 1.1 grams of ALA, respectively, each day. Both men and women should consume 500 mg of EPA and DHA per day. Some of the best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
Your metabolism slows down. This happens naturally, but it becomes more pronounced if you don’t get as much exercise as you should. When your metabolism slows, your body doesn't burn as many calories, which means you need to eat less to stay at a healthy weight. As a result, the foods you eat should be as nutrient-rich as possible. Most women with average activity levels need about 1,800 calories per day. Men with an average activity level need about 2,300 calories each day. You’ll need fewer calories if you’re sedentary, more if you are very active.
Older adults can have trouble understanding and accepting the need for change, so it’s best to introduce new ideas gradually rather than all at once. Working towards a healthier diet in increments can make the overall change seem less overwhelming and painful. Try to share meals with your aging loved one as often as possible. You are not just making sure they eat their vegetables without dousing them in salt; you are also keeping them company. Meals are best enjoyed with other people, and seniors often eat better when they are not dining alone.
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.