Good nutrition is important for any adult that wants to maintain their health, but nutrition becomes even more critical for us as we age.
Many seniors suffer from malnutrition or are at risk of being malnourished. This can occur for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Loss of appetite
- No desire to cook
- Lack of education regarding nutrition
- Eating the wrong foods
- Existing health conditions
- Physical disabilities
These are just a few of the factors that may lead to malnutrition in seniors. Especially for seniors that live alone, getting the daily recommended vitamins and minerals can be a bit of a challenge.
If you have an aging family member that you are concerned about, there are certain signs and symptoms to look out for that may indicate a nutritional deficiency.
Symptoms of Malnutrition
There are several indicators that can point to potential health problems due to a poor diet.
Some of the warning signs to be on the lookout for, can include:
- Easy bruising and slow wound healing
- Dental problems
- Weight loss/gain
- Daily eating habits
- Contents of fridge and cupboards
- Medications and dietary restrictions
- Increased visits to hospital or doctor
Without any assistance or support, it is easy for seniors to get stuck on the path to malnutrition. To ensure that your loved one is getting the nutrition they need, there are some nutrients that hold a special significance for seniors.
Important Nutrients for Seniors
Seniors should try to focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy protein, while avoiding processed foods that are high in fat or sugar.
Some nutrients that are vital for seniors to focus on, are:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
Vitamin B12 is responsible for many bodily functions at the cellular level, and for maintaining overall health.
Vitamin B12 is involved in the creation of healthy blood cells and promoting proper nerve function.
Vitamin B12 is found only in animal-based foods, so vegetarians are at an increased risk of B12 deficiency.
Some good food sources of vitamin B12, include:
- Quality beef and poultry
- Salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, clams
- Fortified cereal or nutritional yeast
- Milk and dairy
- Vitamin B12 supplements
Seniors are at a higher risk for B12 deficiency because our bodies have more difficulty absorbing this vitamin as we age.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can result in weakness, fatigue, and anemia.
Vitamin D is another essential vitamin for seniors because of its role in building and maintaining strong bones and teeth.
Vitamin D can be found in:
- Fatty fish – salmon, tuna, oysters, shrimp, herring, sardines
- Cod liver oil
Seniors are at a greater risk for vitamin D deficiency because of the reduced ability to synthesize it from sunlight.
Vitamin D also helps facilitate calcium absorption.
Calcium is also required for maintaining bone health. Working together with vitamin D, these two nutrients are essential for keeping bones strong and healthy to prevent osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis occurs when bones become weak or brittle, making risk of injury from falls much more serious.
Good sources of calcium, include:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Soya beans
- Canned fish with edible bones
Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte that is required by the body for many functions, like fluid regulation, muscle contraction, and mineral balance.
One of the minerals it plays a big role in balancing, is sodium.
Excess salt in your diet can be a risk factor for hypertension, or high blood pressure. Potassium helps balance out excess levels of sodium in the blood.
Foods high in potassium, are:
- Fruits – bananas, avocados, watermelon, pomegranate
- Vegetables – spinach, beets, swiss chard, broccoli, potatoes
- Beans – black, white, soya
Fiber offers all kinds of health benefits for seniors. Regular fiber intake helps improve gut health and healthy digestion.
Fiber can also help regulate blood glucose levels which can help prevent type 2 diabetes. It can also aid in lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Nuts and seeds
- Oats and bran
- Whole grains
Staying hydrated is an essential part of any healthy diet.
Medications and existing health problems can make seniors more susceptible to dehydration. Total body-water content decreases with age, making water intake even more important for older adults.
Seniors should be drinking 2 litres of water a day at the very least, and should try to consume as much water as possible throughout the day.