Aging is a part of life, and as we age, our lives and bodies go through a multitude of changes. These changes are how we grow and develop into the people that we want to be. What does not change, however, is the importance of nutrition.
For children and adults alike, nutrition is a critical element of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Whether we realize it or not, nutrition affects every aspect of our lives and how our bodies function. Nutrition impacts organ function, brain function, chronic illnesses, the immune system, and muscle and bone health.
When we feed our bodies with the necessary nutrients it requires, we are better able to lead an active, healthy lifestyle. In fact, Medline Plus states that nutrition “gives you energy and can help you control your weight. It may also help prevent some diseases, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.”
Senior nutrition is a top priority at Oaks Senior Living, with communities located throughout Georgia, which is why we have compiled the following nutrition guide for older adults.
NOTE: It is recommended that you speak with a healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your nutrition or diet, and before starting a supplement regimen.
Nutrition Needs Change as We Age
While the importance of nutrition remains constant throughout our lives, nutrition needs alter as we age. There are physical, sensory, gastrointestinal, and oral changes that our bodies go through, impacting not only the nutrition that our bodies need but also the experience we have with consuming food.
It is quite common for aging individuals to decrease their physical activity over the years. Consequently, this leads to the loss of muscle and weight gain, making it even more important to understand proper nutrition that can help combat these lifestyle changes.
Additionally, our senses, such as smell and taste change with age, two main contributors to the experience of eating. When the sense of smell and taste alter, it could cause an individual to lose interest in foods that he or she once enjoyed and refuse to eat. Over time, this refusal to eat leads to malnutrition.
“An aging digestive tract may not only affect the way you eat but could also cause some gastrointestinal conditions as well.” These conditions, such as atrophic gastritis and changes in peristaltic activity, are common among aging individuals and affect the way the body receives nutrients.
Oral health is essential to provide our bodies with the nutrients it needs, as chewing is the first step in the digestive process. Growing older often affects our oral health and can make eating more difficult. According to TIFF, “if your teeth have been worn down or damaged so much so that you can’t eat, or that it hurts to eat, you may not be ingesting the necessary amount of food.”
One thing to consider is that when the body ages, it begins to need fewer calories but just as many nutrients. This is why nutrient-dense foods are essential for older adults. These foods are generally packed with minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients a senior’s body may need.
Key Nutrients Older Adults Need
Fiber helps to regulate the digestive tract and can prevent heart disease and obesity. Foods such as whole-grain bread, brown rice, and lentils can provide you with the necessary fiber to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Protein is a vital nutrient that promotes muscle strength and bone health. Consuming foods such as poultry, fish, eggs, and nuts can help you receive the proper amount of protein your body needs as you age.
Calcium is important for bone health and, when you consume the recommended amount, can reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis. Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, contain high amounts of calcium and should be a part of your balanced diet.
Calcium is absorbed into the body more easily when you nourish your body with vitamin D. In addition to calcium absorption, vitamin D also provides its own benefits including, protecting against type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid osteoporosis. Dairy products, eggs, and fish all contain high amounts of this essential nutrient.
Keeping the mind sharp and preventing cognitive decline is a focus point for many individuals. Vitamin B12 adds to these efforts by promoting brain and nervous system functioning. Adding foods rich in vitamin B12 into your diet, such as meat, poultry, and milk, can ensure that you are getting enough of this nutrient.
Potassium has been linked to reducing the risk of high blood pressure and kidney stones and strengthening bones, making it an essential nutrient for older adults. Potassium-rich foods include fruits and vegetables such as bananas, prunes, and potatoes.
Magnesium provides many benefits, making it fundamental to senior nutrition. Promoting heart health, mental health, strong bones, and strengthening the immune system, magnesium aids in the overall health of individuals. Implement fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains into your diet to nourish your body with the proper amount of magnesium.
Iron is what helps your body carry oxygen throughout your bloodstream and helps to reduce feelings of fatigue and lethargy. Leafy green vegetables, fish, and beans are all rich in iron.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Found in many fish and nuts, omega-3 fatty acids help to decrease inflammation, reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, prevent heart disease, and slow macular degeneration. Ensuring you feed your body with foods rich in this nutrient is beneficial to your overall health and wellness.
Clean Eating and the Rainbow
“Clean eating” can be such a broad term, but, according to the Mayo Clinic, clean eating consists of four key areas:
- Eat More Real Foods
- Eat for Nourishment
- Eat More Plant-Based Foods
- Adopt an Overall Cleaner Lifestyle
The best way to ensure that you are eating healthy is to consume all the colors of the rainbow. This means vibrant vegetables, colorful fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, seafood, beans, nuts, and seeds. You should also try to avoid unhealthy fats, sugary foods, and refined grains.
Knowing Your Caloric Intake Requirement and Weight Management
A significant aspect of senior nutrition is maintaining a healthy weight. As we grow older, our bodies tend to lose muscle mass, resulting in changes in our required caloric intake.
In many cases, an older adult may not be as physically active as they once were, so they burn off fewer calories each day. When fewer calories are burned, fewer calories need to be consumed.
However, as mentioned previously, individuals still need to feed their bodies with the proper nutrients. This makes it all the more important to consume nutrient-dense foods and avoid “empty calories,” consciously choosing foods packed with essential nutrients. You may be consuming fewer calories, but you are still feeding your body what it needs to function properly.
There are two main concerns with nutrition for seniors and their weight:
- Underweight – This could signify that you are not consuming enough calories or that an illness or disease is developing.
- Overweight – Carrying extra weight could increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, bone issues, and type 2 diabetes.
The best way to ensure you are maintaining a proper weight is to consult your primary healthcare provider. He or she will be able to tell you what your ideal weight is and give you advice on how to maintain it. You can also practice weight management at home by calculating your body mass index.
Leading an Overall Healthy Lifestyle
Senior nutrition is not complete without considering physical activity. At Oaks Senior Living, we encourage residents to exercise daily and partake in various fun activities and events. Exercise is essential for everyone; even those with mobility restrictions, such as needing a wheelchair, can and should participate in daily exercise.
However, it is important to note that you should take precautions when it comes to the physical activities in which you choose to participate. These precautions include:
- Receive approval from your primary care physician before increasing physical activity.
- Pay attention to your body. If you become light-headed, dizzy, or experience pain, you should take a break.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Take the time to warm up and cool down.
- Work out with a partner or coach for safety.
When physical activity and healthy eating are practiced in unison, this can promote an overall healthier lifestyle. Additional ways to ensure you are leading a nutritious, healthy life are to stay socially active, get plenty of restful sleep, and participate in activities that you enjoy and make you happy.
At Oaks Senior Living, we believe in creating lifestyles that engage the mind, body, and spirit. Through stimulating activities and events that satisfy many interests and exemplary dining services, we nurture senior nutrition and promote an overall healthy lifestyle. For more information on how we accomplish this, contact a member of our team!
Updated September 1, 2020