Healthy Nutrition for Older Adults, Part I:
6 Obstacles to Healthy Eating
As we grow older, our need for good nutrition is greater than ever, in order to fuel our aging bodies and reduce the risk of illness. Ironically, our nutritional habits often deteriorate with age. This fact explains many of the health woes that seniors often face. They can range from hypertension to a weakened immune system.
On the other hand, healthy eating habits promote a healthier aging process. Eating the right foods and portions keeps our bones, organs, and muscles strong, while it boosts our natural immunity and helps fight off disease. The right diet reduces the risk of many health maladies, such as heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
In addition to physical health improvements, older adults who follow good nutritional principles may have sharper minds and a reduced risk of dementia. Their mental outlook is better due to increased energy and focus, as well as improved self-esteem.
There are many reasons that nutrition often suffers as we age. Be aware of the following factors, whether you are ensuring your own good nutrition or that of an older loved one:
Caloric intake changes. Our caloric needs are reduced with age. Because the number of calories we need to consume becomes smaller, every calorie we take in needs to pack a nutritional wallop.
Digestive problems. Our bodies become less efficient at absorbing many key nutrients as we get older. Also, because of dental or gastrointestinal problems, foods may become difficult to properly chew or digest. Additionally, our digestive systems also slow down with age and we generate less saliva and gastric acid, which both aid in digestion.
Reduced sense of taste. Our taste buds and sense of smell become less sensitive with age, often leading to reduced appetite. Prescription medications can also reduce appetite or affect taste, leading to increased salt or sugar intake.
Slower metabolism. Once we reach the age of forty, our metabolism slows down, causing us to gain weight if we continue to eat the same amount of food. Obesity can be a serious health problem at any age.
Emotional and social difficulties. Depression and social isolation can negatively impact one’s diet, and older adults are at risk for these conditions. Such occurrences as the death of a loved one or divorce can lead to feelings of loneliness and loss of interest in mealtimes.
Financial problems. The reduced budgets that many seniors experience can lead to malnutrition, if seniors cut back on such key items as fresh produce or lean meats. They may overly rely upon processed or “junk” foods.
By understanding and anticipating such potential problems, we can take better control of our diets and practice responsible eating habits. In Part II, we’ll take a look at some of the most important nutritional elements we should have in our diets.