As a senior, meeting nutrition needs isn’t always easy. It can be challenging to plan meals if you can no longer cook for yourself. It’s even more difficult if you have trouble getting to the grocery store on your own. However, planning your meals ahead of time can help ensure that you get the vitamins and minerals you need each day.
While eating a varied diet is important for everyone, it’s especially important for seniors. Proper nutrition can help fend off both physical and mental illness, and keep your body strong in case of a fall.
Read on to learn more about senior nutrition, the best foods for seniors, and meal planning guidelines for the elderly.
Nutritional Concerns for the Elderly
Poor nutrition is linked to diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay, and high blood pressure–all of which can be especially dangerous for senior citizens. Poor nutrition can also contribute to insomnia, stress, malaise, and confusion. Remember, your brain is part of your body, just like your muscles–you must eat properly to keep your brain healthy and functioning well.
Meal planning aims to create a strategy to help you get all your recommended daily vitamins and minerals. Planning your meals can help ensure you get the nutrition you need to maintain your physical and mental health.
Meal planning can also help with portion control, creating a regular meal schedule, and reducing how much you spend on food.
If you struggle with Type 2 Diabetes, portion control can help you lose weight, reduce sugar intake, and lessen your diabetes symptoms.
Regularly Scheduled Meals
Many seniors struggle with confusion and mental decline as they age. This can lead to skipping meals or repeatedly eating the same meal, both of which can lead to malnourishment. When you meal prep, you have a set number of meals pre-prepared, making it much easier to figure out whether or not you’ve eaten.
And last but certainly not least, meal prepping can reduce waste and how much you spend on your groceries each month. When you have a proper meal plan, you know exactly what you need to buy, cutting back on impulse spending.
Because you’re making all your food in batches, you’re much less likely to forget to use an ingredient or let it rot. This reduces waste, which prevents you from having to re-buy your ingredients.
Food Pyramid for Optimal Senior Nutrition
As we age, our bodies need different vitamins and minerals to remain healthy. Our bodies stop producing and/or absorbing certain minerals and vitamins as efficiently, which can have a negative effect on our overall health.
Many of the same conventional nutritional wisdom holds true no matter what our age–eat plenty of greens and vegetables, choose complex, whole-grain carbs, and vary your protein sources. But there are certain aspects of geriatric or senior nutrition that you should pay special attention to. Common nutritional deficiencies in the elderly include:
Our stomachs produce less gastric acid as we age. After the age of 50, gastric acid production declines sharply, making it harder to absorb vitamin B-12. Vitamin B-12 is essential to nerve health and proper blood flow. It can also drastically affect your mood and cognitive ability.
While you can try to up your intake of Vitamin B-rich foods, you likely won’t get enough. Try taking a B-12 supplement if you are struggling with vitamin B deficiency.
We get vitamin D through the absorption of sunlight through the skin. Vitamin D is essential to your bone health and helps in calcium absorption. But as we age, our skin is less able to absorb vitamin D, resulting in a deficiency. This can cause osteoporosis and bones that can break more easily.
If you are low in vitamin D, consider a supplement or try eating vitamin D-rich foods, such as:
- Orange juice
- Dairy fortified with Vitamin D
- Egg yolks
- Beef liver
- Cod liver oil
How to Create Diet Plans as Part of Senior Nutrition
There are five important things to remember when creating balanced meals for your senior nutrition goals:
- Choose various foods: You don’t want to eat the same thing every day, so be creative when planning your meals. Try to include different foods each day, so that you are not eating the same thing over and over.
- Include protein: Protein is important for building muscle and staying active. It also plays a role in keeping your metabolism high, which means you use energy throughout the day.
- Sodium is important, but not too much: Sodium is an important mineral for your body, but you don’t want to eat too much of it.
- Choose low-fat foods: Most people eat too much fat in their diets, which can lead to weight gain and other health problems.
- Drink plenty of water: Water is essential for your health, and it also helps keep your metabolism high.
For more help planning and portioning, check out this diet chart for senior citizens. It’s approved by the AARP and the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA).
Questions About Senior Nutrition?
If you have questions about senior nutrition or need help arranging meal planning or delivery services for a senior citizen, contact Area Agency on Aging of Western Arkansas. We are here to guide you to the resources you need to live a safe and healthy life as a senior in Arkansas.