Maintaining a nutritious diet is no easy task, but for many, eating well becomes even trickier with age. Add in medications that require dietary changes or chronic health conditions, and it’s no wonder some older adults lose track of a healthy eating routine or experience fluctuations in weight.
By prioritizing nutrient-rich foods, older adults and caregivers can help to strengthen minds and immune systems, while also preventing illness down the road. According to the CDC, only 1 in 10 adults meets the federal recommendations for fruit or vegetable intake.
It can be confusing to know which foods to add to a diet or build a meal around to maintain proper nutrients, accommodate dietary restrictions and mange chronic conditions. Any time a diet is being adjusted, it’s important to consult your physician. Consider reaching out to the dietitian at your local grocery store who is an often-underutilized resource when it comes to nutrition.
Isolation Affects Nutrition in Older Adults
In addition, research from Home Instead found that older adults who eat alone tend to consume 157 fewer servings of fruit and vegetables per year than those who regularly share a mealtime with others. The trend is expected to continue, as many remain socially distant from family and friends during the pandemic.
“Many seniors don’t receive the proper nourishment they need to fuel their aging bodies — and it’s partially because they aren’t fully aware of what they need,” said Dr. Lakelyn Hogan, Ph.D., gerontologist and caregiver advocate at Home Instead. “While the challenges associated with senior nutrition are widely understood, there are still several myths out there that add to the confusion.”
6 Common Misconceptions About Nutrition as We Age
To help provide clarity on how older adults can achieve nutrition goals, Hogan busts some common myths on healthy eating habits for individuals 65 and older.
- Myth: Older adults must eat three “proper meals” a day.
Fact: Caloric needs vary from person to person. Eating three full meals a day can sometimes be a struggle for older adults who experience a loss of appetite or find cooking time consuming. Pre-packaged meals or convenience dishes such as frozen vegetables can often do the trick. If three meals are too many, consider swapping them for five or six healthy snacks throughout the day.
- Myth: All hydration needs to come from fluids.
Fact: Staying hydrated is vital for health, but some older adults can struggle to get the appropriate amount of water. While water is the best source of hydration, consuming water-rich foods like watermelon, lettuce, peaches, tomatoes or strawberries can be a great supplement.
- Myth: Supplements are sufficient on their own.
Fact: Dietary supplements are often seen as a quick way to get your daily vitamins and minerals in, but the best way to receive nutrients is through the food we eat. For older adults who have difficulty eating a variety of foods, talk with a doctor about the best approach.
- Myth: Low-sodium or low-fat diets are better for everyone.
Fact: Despite popular beliefs, a low-fat diet or low-sodium diet isn’t always the best. Unless an older adult has certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure, eliminating salt can make food unappetizing and lead to missed meals. Meanwhile, fat is an important source of calories and something that’s especially important for aging adults who struggle to keep weight on. It’s all about moderation. Before making any extreme changes to diet, consult a physician.
- Myth: Older adults don’t need as much protein as younger generations.
Fact: Older adults need more protein than adults under the age of 65. Proteins — lean meats, poultry, fish and eggs — should form the center of a meal. The food group is vital to keeping bones and organs healthy, as well as the immune system functioning well.
- Myth: We don’t need to worry about nutrition in our later years.
Fact: A healthy lifestyle should be pursued at every stage of life. The National Council on Aging recommends older adults eat a variety of foods, including lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy. It’s alright for older adults to occasionally enjoy guilty pleasures, so long as their diet is balanced with healthy options as well.
It’s never too late to re-imagine mealtime for aging adults or to explore new ways to change a diet for the better. Even the smallest changes can make an immediate and lasting difference.
For more information on how to stay on top of the health and wellness of older adults, visit our Senior Health and Wellbeing resources.