Are You Eating Enough? How to Talk to Seniors about Nutrition
Caring for Seniors and Their Nutritional Needs
When you were a child, the adults in your life likely made sure that you got enough to eat. Now that you’re an adult, caretaking roles may have switched.
Do you know if your elderly loved ones are getting their nutritional needs met? Elderly people may have trouble preparing their own meals, or even forget to eat altogether. It’s important to recognize the signs that older family members may not be eating enough, and understand what you can do to help.
Nutritional Needs Change
As you get older, your nutritional needs change. To reflect these shifts, Tufts University researchers designed modified nutritional guidelines to correspond with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recommendations.
“MyPlate for Older Adults” corresponds to “MyPlate,” the federal government’s new primary food group symbol. MyPlate for Older Adults provides information about the specific nutritional needs of seniors to ensure they’re eating enough of the right kinds of foods and staying hydrated.
Half of the plate is made up of fruits and vegetables, in a variety of colors. This is to emphasize the importance of eating multiple servings of produce with dark-colored skin, such as tomatoes, peaches, or berries.
The plate also shows images of low-sodium, low-sugar canned fruits and veggies. These forms are often easier for seniors to prepare.
Specific Foods for Older Adults
To help you get a better picture, some of the specific foods illustrated on MyPlate for Older Adults include:
- bright colored vegetables (like broccoli and carrots) and deep colored fruit (like melon and berries)
- whole grains (such as brown rice, cereals, and whole wheat bread)
- non-fat and low-fat dairy products (such as yogurt)
- lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, and beans
- spices in place of salt
- liquids (including water, fat-free milk, and orange juice)
- liquid vegetable oils that are low in saturated fats
MyPlate for Older Adults also places a new focus on exercise, such as walking, resistance training, and light household chores. Government statistics have shown that elderly obesity rates are rising. MyPlate for Older Adults encourages seniors to engage in regular physical activity to help seniors maintain a healthy weight.
Help with Shopping and Food Preparation
Older adults may become less interested in food due to sensory changes that occur with age. These could include changes in smell, taste, or metabolism. But don’t worry, there are ways that you can help.
According to Colorado State University, loss of visual acuteness can lead to fear of cooking, using a stove, or grocery shopping. Offer to help seniors with shopping and food preparation. Be sure to keep in mind the guidelines from the modified food pyramid.
Experiment with Flavors
Changes in smell and taste can make food less appetizing. Encourage your older loved ones to experiment with healthy new food flavors. And that doesn’t mean introducing extra salt into their diet.
Low-sodium options include seasonings such as:
- herbs (such as dill or basil)
- spices (like curry and paprika)
- lemon juice
Many older adults experience a decline in thirst as they age. This can be dangerous, because it can lead to dehydration. Remind your elderly loved ones to drink a mix of fluids every day to help ensure that stay properly hydrated.
Although water is the most hydrating fluid, juice, milk and other beverages also provide hydration and can add interest.
Consider Food Texture
Food texture can also make a big difference to people with dentures. Assist loved ones with the timing of preparing foods like vegetables to avoid overcooking them.
Emphasize the importance of fresh, flavorful foods with a variety of interesting textures. This will prevent older family members and friends from becoming bored with a drab diet.
Eating right can become difficult as you get older. Seniors will benefit from some guidance occasionally. Follow the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) recommendations for those over 50:
- Half of the grains they eat should be whole grains.
- Aim to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.
- Eat a limited amount of saturated fats.
- Eat seafood two times per week.
Pay attention to the nutritional needs of your elderly loved ones to help ensure that they maintain a healthy diet.
- Federal Report Details Health, Economic status of Older Americans. (2012, August 16). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved June 13, 2013, from http://www.nia.nih.gov/newsroom/2012/08/federal-report-details-health-economic-status-older-americans
- Healthy Eating After 50. (2013, April 30). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved June 13, 2013, from http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/healthy-eating-after-50
- Nutrition and Aging. (2013, April 13) Colorado State University. Retrieved June 13, 2013, from http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09322.html
- Senior Health: How to Prevent and Detect Malnutrition. (2011, September 23). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved June 13, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/senior-health/HA00066
- Tufts University Nutrition Scientists Unveil MyPlate for Older Adults. (2011, November 1). Tufts University. Retrieved June 13, 2013, from http://now.tufts.edu/news-releases/tufts-university-nutrition-scientists-unveil-