Dietary changes are commonly recommended to older adults by their doctors and caregivers. This is due to the physical changes that naturally occur to the human body as it ages, such as losing muscle mass more easily and having a harder time absorbing certain nutrients.
The good news for seniors is most dietary changes are fairly easy to incorporate into their daily lives. For example, many older adults experience dry mouth and difficulty swallowing due to medicinal side effects, health conditions and dental issues.
Simple measures, including cutting food into smaller bite-sized pieces and eating softer foods, can greatly reduce the effort required to eat. This lets seniors continue to relish meals, whether they eat out at their favorite restaurants or join their neighbors here at Hickory Villa in the dining room.
Read below to learn about four of the most common diet changes that older adults often need to adopt and tips to make the transition easier.
Protein is essential to the body's process of forming and maintaining muscle mass. For seniors, this is especially important because low muscle mass can lead to frailty and weakness. In addition to having low energy that makes it difficult to complete ordinary tasks, seniors with protein deficiencies have an increased risk of falls and heal more slowly from injuries.
The suggested amount of protein a person should consume each day goes up after age 65. While the exact amount of protein needed depends heavily on daily activity levels, the basic ratio is 1.2 grams of protein for every kilogram of an individual's weight.
Seniors have many options to increase their protein intake, including supplemental drinks and snack bars. However, the healthiest forms come from lean meats, nuts, beans, soy and low-fat dairy. Talking with a dietician can help older adults pinpoint the right amount of protein to include in their diet based on their typical daily routine.
Although it might be an uncomfortable topic for some individuals, constipation is a common ailment for many seniors. As the body ages and slows down, digestion can also decline, causing bowel movements to become infrequent and difficult to pass.
Health conditions, medication side effects and lifestyles can add to stomach issues. Increasing fiber can help counter these problems by encouraging regularity.
Research has shown that eating a high-fiber diet can provide many other benefits. This includes lowering bad cholesterol levels and regulating blood sugar, which can help reduce the risk for heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Since fiber comes from plants, seniors can easily boost their fiber intake by eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Whole grains and oats are easy to eat during breakfast with bowls of oatmeal, fresh fruit and toast made from multi-grain bread; dishes for lunch and dinner include pasta, baked beans and split-pea soup.
A normal part of aging is having trouble absorbing nutrients from food. For this reason, seniors need to avoid foods with little nourishment, such as chips, candy, pop and alcohol.
Instead, seniors should stock their assisted living apartment with thoughtful snacks that work well in their kitchenette. Fruit baskets and airtight tins of homemade granola are tasty and stylish additions to a countertop or coffee table. A few bags of frozen berries are easy to store and make good alternatives for candy and toppings on frozen waffles, yogurt and bowls of oatmeal.
If dental issues make chewing and swallowing hard, consider keeping snacks with high water content on hand, such as slices of watermelon, cucumber sticks, baked potatoes and low-sodium soups.
Many seniors receive recommendations from their doctors to move to a diet with set amounts of salt, sugar or fat. These controlled diets are ideal for managing chronic health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Restricted diets may feel overwhelming at first. However, many tips and recipes online can help seniors embrace the changes, such as using herbs and lemon juice to season dishes instead of salt.
When going out to eat, consider visiting restaurants with healthy selections on the menu. Some of the best options locally include Chick-fil-A, Panera Bread and Sub-Way, which have locations only a short drive from our senior living community here in Omaha, NE.
At Hickory Villa, we believe that meal times can nourish more than just seniors' physical bodies. Delicious food, good company and uplifting surrounding also feed the spirit and bring enjoyment to daily routines. Seniors often face many dietary changes as they age, but they can rest assured they aren't making the adjustments alone. Our caregiving team and culinary staff are ready to help them navigate the changes without sacrificing the pleasure of a satisfying meal.