As we age, our appetites may change for any number of reasons – a loss of a spouse may mean we’re eating alone, our aging taste buds can’t discern differences in in flavor, or medications may make foods less appetizing. And yet, nutrition remains an important part of ensuring seniors stay healthy. Here are some myths about nutrition for seniors.
It’s never too late to start eating well. A study conducted by Tufts University showed that among people age 65 and older, those who demonstrated healthy eating habits were less likely to die during a 13-year follow-up period. According to the National Institutes of Health, even if you already have one or more chronic diseases, eating well may help you better manage these conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
As we discussed above, there may be reasons why seniors lose interest in food, but this isn’t to say that when it happens, it should be ignored. In fact, it may be a symptom of a much larger problem such as depression (the most common cause), adverse reactions to medication, dental problems or other maladies. Dr. John E. Morley of St. Louis University, developed a screening tool to detect appetite problems in seniors. Dr. Morley goes so far as to say that, “for senior adults, weight loss correlates with death.” The good news, according to Morley, is that “90 percent of the diseases that cause weight loss in older adults are treatable.”
As we discussed, being underweight has long been known as a red flag for possible health issues in the elderly. But geriatricians also focus on the dangers of being overweight. Because seniors may have lost interest in cooking, many rely on processed foods that are easy to fix, but that have little nutritional value. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34 percent of seniors are classified as obese and that number reaches 40 percent when you look at those between the ages of 65-74. Numerous studies have shown that obesity increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, obese people tend to have less energy and therefore are less physical active than their normal-weight counterparts, which exacerbates the problem. Those who are overweight have higher medical costs, have more illness and recover more slowly from injuries. Obesity in seniors may be caused by numerous factors, including physical (hormonal changes), environmental (poverty), genetics (it does run in families), or certain diseases.
Fats have gotten a lot of bad press, but science is beginning to take issue with this notion. First of all, many low-fat or nonfat foods are loaded with sugar (and therefore, calories), which can be more harmful to health than fats. Second, not all fats are created equal. Many foods high in fat – avocados, olive oil, wild salmon, walnuts – have numerous benefits and can actually help improve health. In a 2009 analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition involving 21 studies and nearly 350,000 people, scientists discovered that there wasn’t enough proof to link saturated fat to either heart disease or stroke. There are fats you should always avoid – trans fats being the main culprit, which you can identify on food labels when you see the word “hydrogenated.” In fact, the FDA recently ordered all food manufactures stop using trans fats within three years because of the potential danger they present. As with all things, it is best to eat all fats in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
In many respects, a healthful diet for seniors consists of the same foods you often hear of when people discuss nutrition – a variety of fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains. There are, however, some specific things that seniors may need more of than their younger counterparts, including calcium and Vitamin D, which work together to strengthen bones. Bones lose density as we age, making these nutrients particularly important for seniors. Additionally, seniors are a greater risk of dehydration, making fluid intake an essential element of overall nutrition.
Here at Fedelta, we work to make sure all of your needs are met, whether they be nutritional, health management, or companion care. If your loved one is in need of someone to help them with grocery shopping, meal preparation to ensure their needs have been met, please reach out to Fedelta to learn more about our companion care services. If your loved one may need more assistance managing a chronic disease and their nutritional habits, we can also set up time to discuss care management.
This article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Speak to your doctor and/or a registered dietitian if you have questions about your nutritional needs.