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Importance of Healthy Eating for Seniors

Senior couple enjoying breakfast together

Wouldn’t it be great if we reached a certain age and suddenly we could live well on milkshakes? French fries? Barbecued ribs and root beer? Alas, it isn’t so. Healthy eating for seniors is just as important as it is for the rest of the population. There are age-related nuances and a few barriers seen more often in seniors. But common sense can guide you, and hopefully the benefits of healthy eating will outweigh the challenges. This blog post will offer tips for a well-balanced diet and common obstacles faced by older adults in getting the nutrition they need. 

Let’s dig in.

It’s been well understood  for decades that our food choices affect us holistically – improving or reducing our overall quality of life. It can get pretty sciency, so let’s cut to the chase: A well-balanced diet reduces your risk of chronic diseases, including some cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Nutrient-rich foods even combat mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. A healthy diet helps socially too, as healthy seniors are more willing, able, and likely to engage in activities with others.

Two people cutting and blending fruits and vegetables

A Large Helping of Tips

We all want to feel good and enjoy ourselves, so here are some tips for how to balance your diet.

  • Variety counts. Eat plenty of colorful veggies, beans and fruit, whole grain breads and cereal with higher fiber. Choose lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu and nuts. Buy reduced-fat milk, yogurt and cheeses. You’ve probably heard of the “5 food groups” that lead to a healthy diet. We just covered them.
  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration becomes an increased risk as we age, so 6 to 8 cups a day is recommended. Staying hydrated can reduce the urge to snack.
  • Replace high-fat standards with healthier options: Trade butter, cream, coconut oil and margarine for unsaturated fats from olive oil, canola oil, nut butter and avocados.
  • Limit junk foods. Everyone indulges now and then, but it should be the rare exception. Avoid or limit your intake of these high-calorie, high-fat, low-nutrition foods:
      • Processed meats: hot dogs, sausage, bacon, fast-food burgers, ham, salami and other lunch meats, fried foods
      • Snack foods: potato chips, french fries, deep-fried corn chips
      • Pastries: cookies, cakes and pies, especially prepackaged snack cakes
      • Sugary drinks: sodas, sports drinks, vitamin water, fruit drinks
      • Alcohol: 2 drinks a day: 1 drink = 1 can of beer, 1 glass of wine or 1 shot of spirits

Why Do Some Seniors Have a Hard Time Eating Well?

Plenty of older adults have made a habit of nutritious dining and reap the benefits of healthy eating by turning a well-balanced diet into a habit. Still, seniors face more obstacles than younger people.

  • Appetite. Aging tends to slow the metabolism, reducing appetite. With this drop in appetite, healthy eating for seniors becomes more important, as every bite counts.
  • Digestion. As the digestive system slows, your body generates less saliva and stomach acid, making it more difficult to process vitamins and minerals. Some, such as B12, B6 and folic acid, are necessary to maintain mental alertness and good circulation. Also, the lack of saliva can make chewing and swallowing difficult — it helps to drink water during meals. Keeping fiber in your diet aids with digestion, too.
  • Weakened sense of taste. With weakened taste, dining becomes less pleasurable. Thus, seniors may skip healthy foods. And as you lose sensitivity to salty and bitter tastes, you may want to salt your food more heavily than before — even though older adults need less salt than younger people. The good news is that herbs, spices and healthy oils — like olive oil — are a great way to season foods and are a healthy alternative to salt.
  • Medications and illness. Some medications can cause a decrease in appetite, which can reduce your intake of calories. Medications also can cause a change in sense of taste, again leading seniors to consume too much sugar or salt. 
  • Oral Health. As we age, oral health affects healthy eating for seniors. Ill-fitting dentures, problems with bridges and implants, and infection or decay all affect your ability to chew. If chewing hurts, you’re likely to eat as little as possible. This can lead to malnutrition and unhealthy weight loss.
  • Mental Health. Let’s face it, although aging brings wisdom and a collection of memories and accomplishments, it also brings loss. For many seniors, loneliness and depression can cause a loss of appetite, as well as a decreased interest in food preparation. 

Two seniors being served a healthy meal

While seniors do face some barriers to healthy eating, those barriers aren’t insurmountable.
At Grace Ridge, a continuing care retirement community in Morganton, the health and happiness of residents is our top priority. That includes a dining program managed by our chef and a licensed dietitian, with a focus on senior nutrition

To learn more about healthy eating for seniors and how Grace Ridge helps older adults enjoy life more, contact us here.