As you or your loved one gets older, whether they are a parent, a sibling, aunt or an uncle, there will inevitably be some changes.
While some creaking and feeling stiff are to be expected, nutritional needs also change more as someone gets older. What was once a tasty treat, such as a takeaway burger or pizza, may no longer be on the cards, as it may cause heartburn, constipation, and other unpleasant short-term conditions.
Boosting the overall well-being of older adults is essential to ensure that the person you care for remains healthy and happy, as well as making sure that they enjoy the foods that they are given.
By adopting certain practices and making lifestyle changes, older individuals can enhance their physical, mental, and emotional health, all with a few dietary changes and by potentially cutting back on salt and sugar!
So, what can you do to help yourself feel better or enable the person you are caring for to feel better with their diets in the senior years of life? Read on to find out!
Consume Nutrient-Rich Foods
Say goodbye to junk food and microwave meals! You may have noticed that across the board, whether it is in hospitals or a Reigate care home, the foods that are given to older people tend to be freshly cooked and full of nutrition. Even if they are living at home, older adults should prioritize nutrient-dense foods to meet their dietary requirements. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy products, and healthy fats like nuts and seeds.
So, if you are looking after an older relative, make sure your pantry is stocked with fresh fruits!
Older people are more susceptible to dehydration due to reduced thirst sensation, which is worrying in the summer months. Drinking an adequate amount of water and consuming hydrating foods such as fruits, vegetables, and watery soups can help maintain proper hydration levels. So, once again, be sure to keep an eye on your relative’s water intake and try to encourage them to avoid diuretics like coffee.
Increase Fiber Intake
Fiber is essential for general digestive health and maintaining regular bowel movements. Older adults should consume fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts to support gastrointestinal function.
As someone gets older, they may lose control of their bowels, rather than reduce fibre intake if this is occurring, you should get your elderly relative to see a doctor.
Focus on Protein
Adequate protein intake is crucial for maintaining muscle mass, strength, and overall health. Older adults should include lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and plant-based protein sources in their diet. Try to avoid fatty sources of protein, such as pork, and aim to keep down the consumption of bacon too.
Limit Added Sugars and Salt
Excessive sugar and sodium intake can contribute to health issues in the elderly if consumed without monitoring. So, older individuals should reduce the consumption of sugary beverages, processed foods, and excessive salt in their meals, but this area will be discussed a bit more at the end.
Pay Attention to Calcium and Vitamin D
Older adults have increased calcium needs to support bone health and prevent or manage osteoporosis, as well as any bone issues that may be related to medication usage. Dairy products, fortified plant-based milk, leafy green vegetables, and calcium supplements can help meet these needs. Adequate sun exposure or vitamin D supplements are also crucial for calcium absorption, just make sure they don’t get sunburned!
Include Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish like salmon and sardines, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds. These acids support brain health, reduce inflammation, and protect against cardiovascular disease. Older adults should incorporate these foods into their diet, to help slow down issues associated with neurological degeneration and just to help with problems like arthritis too!
Be Mindful of Portion Sizes
Aging bodies require fewer calories due to changes in metabolism and reduced physical activity levels. Paying attention to portion sizes can help prevent overeating and maintain a healthy weight. However, older people also struggle to have an appetite, so you might find that they eat too little as well – always talk to a doctor if you are worried about their weight in any way.
Plan Meals and Snacks
Older adults and their carers should plan their meals and snacks to ensure that they get a more balanced diet. This helps in incorporating a variety of foods and provides regular and timely meals, preventing excessive hunger and unhealthy food choices.
Consult a Registered Dietitian
If you aren’t sure where to start with these diet tips, or you or the person that you are caring for has specific dietary needs due to health issues or medications, you will need to call in professional help.
Consulting a registered dietitian can provide personalized recommendations, help address specific concerns, and optimize dietary choices. This can also make for a fun experience as if they are being advised to eat more oily fish and greens, they and you can have fun putting together new meal ideas.
Salt and Sugar- Always a Bad Thing?
You may have noticed that two big food components have been highlighted in a negative way here; salt and sugar. In diets across the age ranges, these two additives should be reduced as much as possible to boost better health, but are they always as bad as they seem in older age?
Salt and sugar are not inherently bad for a senior diet, but moderation is key. Excessive intake of salt and sugar can have adverse health effects, particularly for older adults who may be more vulnerable to certain conditions. However, small amounts of salt and sugar can be a part of a balanced diet.
Salt (sodium) plays a role in maintaining fluid balance and nerve function, but consuming too much salt in an older person will likely lead to high blood pressure, as well as increase the risk of cardiovascular problems. Older adults with hypertension or other cardiovascular conditions should limit their salt intake and focus on consuming fresh, whole foods instead of processed foods, which tend to be high in sodium.
Sugar, especially added sugars found in processed foods and sugary beverages, can contribute to weight gain, diabetes, and dental issues. Older adults should limit their intake of sugary foods and drinks and opt for naturally sweet options like fruits. It’s important to note that natural sugars found in fruits and dairy products, when consumed as part of a balanced diet, can provide valuable nutrients and energy, so if you are putting together a diet plan for an elderly relative, make sure it has lots of fruits!