Five Myths About Nutrition and Seniors

Think you know what’s best nutritionally for loved ones in their elder years?  Here are five common but false beliefs about senior nutrition:

#1 Seniors should follow healthy eating guidelines and they’ll be OK.
Most nutritional guides, such as the Food Pyramid or online educational aids, such as www.choosemyplate.gov/guidelines provided by nutrition experts and the U.S. Department of Agriculture do not provide for the special nutritional needs of seniors.  Guidelines may suggest foods that could interact dangerously with medication.  Or they might worsen diabetes or heart disease conditions.  They may not take into consideration an elder’s difficulty chewing or swallowing.  Also, seniors need more of certain vitamins and minerals to maintain optimal health than suggested in guidelines written for adults or children.

#2  It is natural for older persons to lose their appetites.
Because of metabolic changes and decreased activity, some seniors may need less food than younger adults, but a “loss of appetite” is not normal and could be a sign of a serious health problem.  Dental issues or a decreased sense of taste can lead to eating less rather than a lack of appetite.  Seniors should weigh themselves or have their weight checked routinely and any sudden weight loss be brought to the attention of a physician.

#3 There is nothing wrong with eating alone.
Elderly people who live alone and are left to prepare food by themselves, often don’t eat as well as they should. Physical and cognitive problems can cause seniors to become unable to prepare adequately nutritious or filling meals. Eating almost every meal in isolation can also contribute to loneliness, stress and anxiety. Eating alone can put seniors at risk.
It’s ideal for seniors to, at least some of the time, eat with others. Even those who live alone can visit a senior center where meals are available along with activities and social interaction with others. Senior communities are also a good solution for seniors unable to prepare meals. One of the primary benefits of living in a senior community is careful attention to detail and the ability to eat and socialize with others in a common dining room.

#4  Senior Communities Have Awful Food.
Most senior living communities employ talented chefs and nutritionists to ensure that the meals served are nutritional as well as tasty.  If seeking an assisted living community for a senior loved one, be sure to experience at least one meal at each location you are considering.  Visit during mealtimes to see the dining room interaction for yourself and use the opportunity to interact with other residents.

#5 Seniors Have Slower Metabolisms and Need Fewer Nutrients.
While seniors may need slightly fewer calories and food-bulk than younger adults, they need just as many nutrients, if not more. One reason is that as we age, our ability to absorb nutrients decreases. Doctors recommend that older adults increase their intake of calcium as well as Vitamins D and B12.  Check with your physician before adding supplements to the diet.

Just because a person has reached an advanced age, it doesn’t mean they cannot benefit from healthy eating.  It’s never too late for anyone to make efforts to improve their health and diet, which can make one’s quality of life more enjoyable, with better tasting meals and well-being.