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Like me, you may be faced with being a caregiver for your parents, or other older relative. One of the things that requires a lot of attention is making sure that they are eating healthy. Healthy eating for older adults is possible!
Healthy Eating for Older Adults
Older adults still have virtually the same nutritional requirements as all adults. However, since they most likely aren’t as active, they won’t need as many calories. They also may have trouble eating.
Our elders very well may not tell us why they are having trouble eating. They may not even realize it or know why themselves. They may have trouble eating due to dental problems, loss of taste or smell, loss of appetite from age or medicine side effects, or the inability to prepare their own meals. We have to pay attention to their eating habits and do some sleuthing to identify why they aren’t eating, and make changes for them so that they can get the nutrition that they need.
The first step would be a visit to the doctor and/or a nutritionist. They, and you, need to find out what the recommend daily calorie intake is for them. Caloric needs do change. The doctor or nutritionist will also let you know any special needs they may have. A low sodium diet, limits on fluids, or certain vitamins, to name a few. This would be a great time to ask if they recommend any vitamins or supplements for them.
If they are not eating enough due to dental problems, a visit to the dentist is in order. If they have dentures, they may need to change the food they are eating, or change the form that they are eating them in. For example, a lot of older adults have trouble chewing raw vegetables. So they need to eat cooked veggies instead.
The foods that need to be eaten for good health are the same for everyone regardless of age.
Healthy carbohydrates: Brown rice, sweet potatoes, whole grains – bread, crackers, or pasta
Proteins from meat, fish, eggs, and beans
Dairy products including milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter
And five servings of fruits and vegetables a day
Healthy eating for older adults means that substitutions may need to be made. Here are a few suggestions
You will need to make sure that carbohydrates are cooked to the correct consistency for them. Whole grains will often have to be something that does not have visible grains and seeds in it. Those can be hard to digest, as well as getting stuck in or under dentures. If eating that whole grain bread causes them pain, they won’t eat it. There are now white whole wheat breads on the market that they may be willing to eat.
The protein may have to change forms as well. Trouble chewing meat may mean eating more ground meats instead of having a steak. Chicken and fish are easier to chew than beef. Beans can be a good choice. Unless they have trouble with them being gas producing. That can make older adults very uncomfortable. If they like eating beans, there are ways to make them less gas producing, such as soaking over night.
Digestion slows down as we age, and a lot of older adults have trouble digesting raw vegetables, so fruits and vegetables may need to be eaten cooked. Make sure that they are getting a variety of vegetables to get enough nutrition. This may mean making extra vegetables. Some for the family and some for the them. Usually the darker the vegetable, the more nutrition it contains. Broccoli, cauliflower, and onions may need to be avoided as they are gas producing. You may have a hard time getting them to eat the full 5 servings every day. I know I do! Try to get as many in as you can. Hiding them in other foods if you have to. For example banana or zucchini bread. Adding bananas to pancakes and french toast. Adding finely chopped vegetables to meatloaf.
Dairy products are important for their calcium and vitamin D that help bones stay strong. Yogurt, with active cultures is important for gut health.
As the sense of taste and smell fade as we get older, we may need to add more spices and seasonings to increase the flavors to entice them to eat.
With a few adjustments, older adults can still eat their favorite foods and get the nutrition they need to be, and stay, healthy.
You may find this book helpful as well. Food and Fitness after 50: Eat Well, Move Well, Be Well.
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