Sometimes good nutrition for seniors can be easier if someone else does the cooking. If you’re finding it difficult to prepare healthy meals for yourself, talk to a family member, friend, or your doctor. There may be services available to help make sure you’re getting the nutritional food you need. For example, Meals on Wheels is available across the United States and in other countries. The service may be available where you live.
Elderly people who live alone and are left to prepare food by themselves often have bad outcomes. Cognitive and physical problems often cause seniors to become unable to prepare adequately nutritious or filling meals. Eating almost every meal in isolation can also exacerbate anxiety, loneliness, and stress. In other words, constantly eating alone can put seniors at risk.
You can do many things on a daily basis to help ensure that your nutrition goals stay on track. First, eat regularly. Most healthcare professionals recommend that you eat three meals a day and have healthy snacks in between. Include at least three food groups with every meal. Choose fresh, plant-based foods first, eat whole grains, limit red meat, and avoid processed and high-sugar foods. Here are some additional tips:
Inflammation is involved in a number of different diseases such as atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and even cancer. As we all know, these conditions are prevalent in seniors, especially since our immune systems tend to weaken as we age. Research says that at least half of one’s plate should consist of vegetables and fruit at each meal. Choose healthy animal proteins like fatty fish (salmon) or lean poultry (boneless skinless chicken breast) and whole grains as your source of carbohydrates and starch to round out meals.
In addition to the food groups, think about your fluid intake so that you can avoid the potential complications of dehydration. In seniors, thirst sensations often become weaker, so make a conscious effort to consume the amount of fluids your doctor recommends. For some seniors, that means consuming a minimum of nine to 12 cups of fluids per day. Those fluids can include liquids like water, tea, pure fruit juice, and milk. To help yourself consume that amount, drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up, always have a glass or bottle of water with you, and include a glass of water or a cup of tea with your meals.
As we age, our bones weaken due to decreased mobility and mineral loss. Increasing vitamin D and calcium intake to three times per day is appropriate to prevent osteoporosis or to keep the condition from worsening. Many foods, such as cereal, bread and juice, are fortified with both these important dietary components to promote bone health. The National Osteoporosis Foundation also recommends enhancing the calcium content of recipes by adding two to four tablespoons of nonfat powdered milk. Each tablespoon contains 50 mg of calcium, which can help you reach your total daily recommendation.
Our body composition changes with age. Aging is associated with an increase in total body fat, as well as a shift of that fat distribution. An older individual has higher total body fat and visceral fat (fat surrounding the organs). While routine physical activity may help lessen this shift, some degree of change is inevitable. To some extent, a small increase in overall fat may be healthy. Think of it this way—if you slip and fall, you will likely fare much better with adequate fat tissue to pad and protect your bones.
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.
*Editor’s note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group, and it is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
“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.
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.