Nutrition Articles

Nutrition and the Elderly

Are the Seniors in Your Life Eating Well?

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If you are concerned about the diet of an elderly person in your life, here are some practical tips to ensure he or she is getting proper nutrition:

Offer nutritionally-dense foods. Since many seniors aren’t eating as much as they should, the food they do eat must be as nutritious as possible. Encourage whole, unprocessed foods that are high in calories and nutrients for their size. Some examples include: healthy fats (nut butters, nuts, seeds and olive oil), whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat bread, oats and whole grain cereals), fresh fruits and vegetables (canned and frozen are also good choices), and protein-rich beans, legumes and meat and dairy products. This will help ensure that they are getting all the vitamins and minerals needed to maintain proper health.

Enhance aromas and flavors. Appealing foods may help stimulate appetite, especially in someone whose senses of taste and smell aren't what they used to be. Seniors can intensify flavors with herbs, marinades, dressings and sauces. Switching between a variety of foods during one meal can also keep the meal interesting. Try combining textures, such as yogurt with granola, to make foods seem more appetizing.

Make eating a social event. Many seniors who live alone or suffer from depression may stop cooking meals, lose their appetites, and depend on convenience foods. If you are worried that your parent or grandparent isn’t eating properly, make meals a family occasion. Bring a hot meal over to her home or invite her to your house on a regular basis. She may become more interested in food when other people are around.

Encourage healthy snacking. Many seniors don’t like to eat large meals or don't feel hungry enough to eat three full meals a day. One solution is to encourage or plan for several mini-meals throughout the day. If this is the case, make sure each mini-meal is nutritionally-dense with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Whole grains and fortified cereals are a good source of folate, zinc, calcium, Vitamin E and Vitamin B12, which are often lacking in a senior’s diet. Cut back on prepared meats, which are high in sodium and saturated fat.

Take care of dental problems. Maintaining proper oral health can enhance nutrition and appetite. Make sure dentures fit properly and problems like cavities and jaw pain are being properly managed. Insurance plans, including Medicare, cover certain dental procedures.
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About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.

Member Comments

  • I don't mind shopping since I usually find handicapped parking and there are electric carts. But hauling them into the house can be very laborious. - 1/18/2016 11:39:21 PM
  • At 65, I don't consider myself all that elderly but a lot of the time I am just not interested enough to plan a meal. I will wait to eat until I get hungry and may find myself eating total crap or snack-type foods because when I get hungry, I am ready to eat right then. My 85-year-old mother is actually better than I am because she wants to put "3 squares" on the table a day, which is more food than I want. I eat in order not to hurt her feelings and wind up eating way too much. - 9/27/2015 12:49:46 PM
  • Since I am , along with my brother and sisters, trying to help our mom eat more, I was looking for more ideas to get her to have healthy snacks.
    At the moment , the whole idea is to just get her to eat.
    Thanks for the article. - 9/27/2015 11:51:46 AM
    A well explained article. I just loved it. The writers have a very thorough knowledge. I would urge my grandparents to read this article. - 10/17/2013 3:40:01 PM
    This is an excellent article here by Leanne and Nicole. They are very thorough in their knowledge of senior dietary problems. As they indicate, there are many different factors that can contribute to a deficient diet. In southwest Florida, our agency provides non-medical home care for seniors, which includes cooking them regular, nutritious meals. Seniors are a national treasure and we must take care of them. http://www.elites
    eniorcompanio - 6/17/2013 12:34:41 PM
    I believe my grandparents ate well when they were young. They ate fresh food, none of those processed stuff. Towards the end of her days though my grandma ate looots of processed food. Not to mention she loved shopping at http://www.person
    alcarewholesa Of course she's just points and i do the real shopping. Anyway that was a drastic change in her lifestyle and i believe it affected her health later on. We should all just go back to how our grandparents used to eat: Fresh and organic. - 5/16/2011 10:29:27 AM
    While my grandma was aging (she lived to 97!), getting her to eat was incredibly difficult. There were a few things that did help her:

    1. Having someone feed her VERY small mouthfuls - I mean like 1/2 teaspoon at a time. (She was more likely to eat if my mom or I fed her than if a nurse did.)

    2. Only showing her little bit of food at a time. (When she saw too much food, it just overwhelmed her and she couldn't eat.)

    3. Eating icecream (always a favorite with her!) and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without crusts really helped. Also, there are nutritional drinks, like Boost or Ensure, which she enjoyed.

    4. Not forcing her to eat on our schedule. Towards the end of her life, she had more and more trouble eating, so my family only encouraged and offered food. Sometimes she ate, sometimes she didn't. Sometimes we had to wait a few minutes and then ask again.

    I hope that maybe some of my family's experiences can help.

    Blessings! - 3/21/2010 4:58:53 PM
  • I am seeing some of this now with my parents. Their appetites have just decreased so much, and I think they do not get enough calories, and I know that they are not getting enough protein. My sister and I try to help them with the shopping and new ideas, but they are resistant to change, it is hard to change a lifetime of habits. - 11/25/2008 10:29:38 AM
  • I believe nutritional deficiencies cause many of these problems in the elderly. For example: zinc deficiency alters potassium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, sodium, calcium, levels which alters brain function and absorption of nutrients. Zinc deficiency also alters tastebuds and smell. I know stomach acids change and that also affects nutrient absorption. Hopefully you can change the stomach environment without drugs (because so many ALSO deplete nutrient absorption) which might help. Check HCA levels (hydrochloric acid). Iron deficiency causes fatigue and apathy ... you see what I mean?! (Iron deficiency also causes swallowing difficulties ... thinking of the poster who mentioned Parkinson's). We should not "accept" these things as "normal" aging! JMHO. - 5/27/2008 4:28:29 PM
  • Listing physical difficulty needs to include obesity. Before I joined Sparkpeople, my back would hurt from standing at the kitchen stove. Thankfully, losing pounds has greatly helped relieve that. Thanks SP. - 5/13/2008 3:20:36 PM
  • Parkinson's Disease and other problems can make swallowing very difficult for the elderly, so thick liquids would then be far better than things like nuts that can be aspirated when the throat muscles aren't working right. If they "breathe in" nuts or seeds to their lungs, it's very dangerous. So a way to help with that is to be sure they have a simple-to-use blender and can puree healthy foods into a hot soup or healthy cold smoothie. - 3/24/2008 2:24:54 PM

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