You’ve heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Eating well and adopting healthy habits are important for everyone at all ages, especially the older we get. According to the World Health Organization, we are more susceptible to malnutrition due to changes that naturally occur with the aging process. Many diseases that plague the elderly are a result of dietary reasons. Studies have indicated that malnourished older adults tend to visit doctors, hospitals, and emergency rooms more often.
Good nutrition plays a crucial role in keeping older people healthy and functioning. There are five key components to the aging process: a decrease in appetite, hydration, choosing nutrient dense foods, food safety, and incorporating small changes into your lifestyle.
Decrease in Appetite
As we age our digestive system begins to slow causing a reduction in saliva and stomach acid. This can make it more difficult for your body to process certain foods leading to a decrease in appetite. Also, the sense of smell and taste diminishes with age, which affects the appetite. We first notice a decline in salty and bitter tastes. In an article entitled,“Eating Well as you Age”, it points out that medications can also affect the sense of taste; thereby, affecting the appetite in a negative way. To help compensate for the change in appetite and sense of taste, try adding oils, vinegars, and spices to enhance foods.
As part of the aging process, the ability to feel thirst starts to diminish. Your body still needs the same amount of fluids even though you may not think about drinking a glass of water. In the article, “Healthy Eating for Seniors,” it recommends drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of fluids daily. A good sign of proper hydration is to check your urine. If your urine is clear and light, then you’re properly hydrated. If your urine is dark and/or cloudy, then you need to drink more fluids.
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The decrease in appetite makes it important for us to choose foods that are nutrient dense. Older people don’t eat much, so it’s crucial to pay attention to what goes in your mouth. Foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, dairy, and whole grains are part of nutrient-dense diet. Healthy fats, like avocados, olive oil, and nuts, are important for mental health, fighting fatigue, and managing moods.
Sarah Stevenson in her article, “7 Heart Healthy Shopping Tips for Seniors,” gives recommendations on how to stay healthy and have a vital life.
Did you know that one in six people could get sick from food poisoning? Following proper food safety techniques at home and in restaurants is necessary to prevent illness. The immune system weakens with age, putting you at risk for illness. Foodsaftey.gov gives a checklist on how to properly handle food in the home, making sure you are safe from food poisoning.
Make gradual changes
Eating a variety of foods every day has many health benefits. To eat healthier, start by making one change at a time. For example, you might switch to wholegrain bread, seafood, and pick up a few more fruits and vegetables when you shop. Healthy eating isn’t just a “diet” or “program” that’s here today and gone tomorrow. It is part of a healthy lifestyle you can adopt now and maintain in the years to come. These changes may be easier than you think.
Getting older and undergoing the changes that occur within the body has its challenges. Understanding that we will experience a decrease in appetite and thirst, incorporating nutrient-dense foods by making small changes daily, and paying attention to food safety, we can stay healthy and independent in the years to come. Whatever your age, you can start making positive lifestyle changes today.