Many seniors complain that the taste of food changes as they age. What many don’t realize is that their nutritional needs are also changing.
“As we get older, our calorie needs go down,” said registered dietitian and diabetes educator Amy Campbell. “People don’t need to eat as much as they did when they were 20 or 30.”
Depending on their activity level, older women might need only 1,600 to 2,200 calories per day, compared to younger women who need about 1,800 to 2,200. Men’s caloric needs can drop to 2,000 to 2,800 calories per day, compared with 2,200 to 3,200 for younger men.
When it comes to senior health care, Portland doctors agree that diet is a critical factor in warding off common health problems such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. Yet eating well can be a challenge for seniors who are frail, on a budget or simply losing their interest in food.
Characteristics of a Healthy Senior Diet
Seniors don’t necessarily need to follow a specific diet as long as they plan well-rounded meals that address their specific health and nutritional needs. For both women and men, it’s wise to choose foods that enhance heart health while helping to prevent hypertension, osteoporosis and diabetes.
There are some key considerations to keep in mind when planning a diet that supports senior health care. Portland doctors recommend meals that:
Are simple to prepare and eat. Fading energy, increased frailty and chronic pain from arthritis or other health problems are all factors that can make preparing meals more difficult. A sustainable senior diet includes meals that are simple to prepare. People with dental problems that make it difficult to chew may also need to incorporate softer foods that provide the nutrients they need.
Include extra protein. People need more protein as they age; not getting enough can open the door for lower immune function and osteoporosis. Iron deficiency from a lack of red meat is also common in seniors. But that doesn’t mean you need animal protein with every meal. Legumes such as lentils, beans and chickpeas can provide an alternative source of protein.
Help lower cholesterol. Many seniors struggle to keep their cholesterol down, and the right diet can make a huge difference. Those with high cholesterol often do better with a diet low in saturated fat—one that focuses on low-fat dairy sources, lean red meats and fish, while avoiding baked goods with trans fats.
Offer plenty of hydration. People often lose their sense of thirst as they get older, so it can be harder to get enough fluids. A healthy diet should include plenty of water and beverages that are low in sugar and salt, such as low-fat milk or 100 percent juice.
Recommended Diets for Seniors
For those who prefer to follow a specific diet, Campbell finds the following plans most effective at promoting weight loss while controlling conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Mediterranean: A Mediterranean-inspired diet is more of an eating pattern than a structured diet. It emphasizes fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes and olive oil—plus plenty of flavorful herbs and spices. It also incorporates fish and seafood at least twice a week and other protein sources—such as poultry, eggs, yogurt and lean red meat—in moderation.
DASH: This diet aims to deflate high blood pressure by focusing on nutrients like potassium, calcium, protein and fiber while taking it easy on the salt. To get started, use a guide to help you determine how many calories you need and where those calories should come from.
TLC: The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Diet focuses on lowering high cholesterol by cutting way back on fat—particularly the saturated kind—while strictly limiting dietary cholesterol intake and getting more fiber. It includes plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish and poultry without the skin.
The Blood Sugar Solution:
A healthy diet is a key factor in effective senior health care. Portland nutrition specialists suggest choosing a diet that’s easy to implement, maintain and adapt to your changing nutritional needs.