Healthy eating is essential at any age, but it’s particularly important for older adults. The good news is that you already know nutrition doesn’t come from crash diets and food fads.
Fresh, tasty foods made with whole ingredients are key to supporting nutrition for seniors. Read how these 7 essential nutrients can aid in a healthy diet, and see how you can make the most out of every meal during retirement.
Before you change your diet or add supplements to your daily routine, be sure to check with your doctor. That way, you can avoid potential interactions with medications, and get tailored tips on nutrition for seniors that specifically match your health concerns and wellness goals.
Essential Nutrients for a Healthy Diet
Calcium is essential for senior nutrition, because it optimizes your bone, muscle and nerve health. Experts recommend that adults 70 years and older intake 1,200 mg of calcium daily, preferably through your diet instead of supplements. Though milk is a popular source of calcium, fortified oatmeal, collard greens, and crabmeat are non-dairy ways to pack more of this essential nutrient into your diet.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps your body produce the hormone calcitriol, which aids in the absorption of calcium from your diet. When your body can’t absorb calcium from your diet, it takes from your skeleton. This can lead to weak bones or the prevention of stronger bones. It’s recommended that men and women over the age 70 intake 800 IU of vitamin D per day. You can get vitamin D from spending time in the sunshine, supplements, or your diet. Egg yolks, milk, salmon and mushrooms are significant sources of vitamin D.
3. Vitamin C
Though it’s uncommon for people to have serious vitamin C deficiencies, it’s still an important part of a healthy diet. Vitamin C helps you produce collagen, which is important for healthy bones, skin, cartilage and blood vessels. It also aids in wound healing, supports brain cell functions and strengthens your immune system. For adults 50 and older, the recommended intake of vitamin C is 75 mg a day for women and 90 mg a day for men. Most people get plenty of vitamin C from a well-balanced diet, but you can boost your intake with foods like kale, broccoli, strawberries and cantaloupe.
4. Vitamin B12
In older adults, low vitamin B12 levels can lead to anemia, fatigue, neuropathy, memory issues and difficulty walking. Older adults have an especially hard time getting enough vitamin B12 because they develop problems with the acid and stomach enzymes needed to process it. Your body doesn’t produce vitamin B12 on its own, and experts recommend around 2.4 micrograms a day. Delicious foods like cooked clams, red meat (especially livers),and egg yolks are wonderful ways to add this vitamin to your diet. Baked goods or pasta made from flour fortified with vitamin B12 are also delicious ways to boost your intake.
Potassium is an electrolyte that’s key to healthy nerve function, heart rhythms and brain function. In fact, increased potassium levels have been linked to improved cognitive performance and could slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This is another nutrient your body doesn’t produce on its own, which is why you should take special care to include it in your diet. Experts recommend older adults eat a diet that includes at least 4.7 grams of potassium a day. You can find potassium in dried apricots, prunes, potatoes, broccoli, beet greens, avocados and bananas.
A recent study published by The Journals of Gerontology found that older adults who had higher protein intakes are more likely to maintain their independence as they age. That’s because protein contributes to a healthy body overall by aiding in muscle strength, improving bone health, boosting your metabolism, lowering your blood pressure, and helping your body repair itself after injury. While there’s no set amount for daily protein intake for seniors, experts recommend trying to include at least 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal, along with 12 to 15 grams of protein per snack. Quality protein powders stirred into a smoothie, lean cuts of beef, halibut, low-fat cottage cheese, and lentils are all wonderful sources of protein.
While water technically doesn’t provide vitamins or other nutrients, staying hydrated is essential nutrition for seniors. Dehydration can lead to dry mouth, fatigue, dizziness, muscle cramps, difficulty walking and rapid heart rate. You should try to drink 6 to 8 cups of fluids a day. The good news is that you don’t have to drink just plain water. A small portion of your fluid intake can include milk, sugar-free drinks, tea and coffee. Foods like cucumber, watermelon and soup are also great ways to help with hydration.
How to Make Every Meal Count
Sometimes it’s difficult to work up an appetite. Health issues and other problems can make it tough to maintain nutrition for seniors. Here are a few tips that might help get you on the right path to better nutrition:
Make it social. Food tastes better when you’re enjoying the company of friends and family. Try organizing a potluck or having a barbeque. At Santa Marta, we have multiple dining venues designed to help our Residents get to know each other and socialize. Café Della Terra serves casual fare for breakfast and lunch, La Taverna provides a comfortable spot for Happy Hour, and Botticelli’s – our Tuscan-themed restaurant – is the perfect place for an elegant meal.
Make it beautiful. On days when you’re eating alone, make it special by using your favorite tablecloths, eating your favorite foods, drinking water out of a wine glass, or even eating a meal while indulging in your favorite TV show. You can also treat yourself by creating a healthy charcuterie board filled with low-fat cheese, low-sodium meats, and whole grain crackers while you turn the pages of the latest bestseller.
Be active. Nothing puts your appetite into high gear like a good workout. Being physically active can help your muscles stay strong, improve your balance and increase your bone strength. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, such as brisk walking or water aerobics, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity, like hiking, to help regulate your appetite.
Get help with health issues. It’s common for health issues like difficulty chewing, thyroid disorders, changes in the digestive system, hormonal changes and shifts in mental health to affect senior nutrition. Contact your medical providers and discuss how to maintain good nutrition when you have health concerns. Often, occupational therapy or a trip to the dentist or doctor is all it takes to get back on track.
Whether you’re settling in for a fine dining experience at Botticelli’s, hanging out with your friends at La Taverna, or grabbing a quick bite at Café Della Terra, you’ll find something that suits every taste. We’ll even provide takeout service or deliver a hot meal to your door. To discover our distinctive dining venues and experience our vibrant senior living community in Olathe, KS, contact our senior living counselors online, and we’ll schedule an in-person visit.