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The Special Nutrient Needs of Older Adults

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Maintaining a healthy diet requires time and effort, and is important at every stage of life. As we age, eating right and getting enough nutrients can become more difficult.

Practicing good nutrition can help seniors stay healthy, have enough energy to enjoy their lives, and prevent illness. Sometimes, the older adults in our lives need extra help and support in managing their diet. No matter their needs, we’re here to help

What Is Nutrition & Why Is It Important?

Nutrition is the practice of eating a healthy, balanced diet. Good nutrition is comprised of food and drink that gives a person the energy and nutrients they need to live. 

Nutrients are different substances that our body needs to function, grow, and thrive, such as proteins, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, and water. Practicing good nutrition is important at every age and can help prevent certain conditions and diseases, like high blood pressure, diabetes, and even cancer. 

Good nutrition is different for every person. While certain “rules” remain true for all of us—we all have to eat our fruits and vegetables—”good nutrition” for you is probably different than “good nutrition” for someone else. This is why it’s important to listen to your body and see your doctor regularly. 

Aging & Nutrition

As we age, our bodies and lives change. Therefore, what we need to stay healthy can also change. 

It’s very common that older adults and seniors require fewer calories each day. As a senior begins to eat less, it becomes more difficult for them to get enough nutrients each day. If a person isn’t getting enough nutrients, they can become more tired, feel weaker, and have a higher risk of developing an illness.

Lifestyle changes can make it hard for seniors to get proper nutrition, such as:

  • Suddenly living alone
  • Lack of mobility 
  • An inability to cook for oneself
  • New medications (can change senses, appetite, etc.)
  • Trouble chewing or swallowing

Aging is also linked to other changes in the body, such as muscle loss, thinner skin, and a decrease in stomach acid. These changes can lead to nutrient deficiencies or changes in your senses. 

For example, studies have shown that approximately 20% of seniors developed atrophic gastritis. This condition causes chronic inflammation that damages the cells that produce stomach acid, making it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients. This can cause deficiencies in vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and magnesium.

Another issue for many seniors is losing their ability to properly recognize their vital senses, like hunger and thirst. This can make a person more prone to dehydration, accidental weight loss, and more serious issues.  

Fortunately, everyone can practice good nutrition with the right information, practice, and support.

How Can Seniors Eat Healthy?

a person standing out of frame squeezes half of a lemon over a plat of salmon, zucchini, asparagus, tomatoes and slices of bread

Seniors can eat healthily and get enough nutrients by eating a variety of whole foods, taking any necessary supplements, and seeing their doctor regularly.

While each person has unique needs, there are some common tips to help promote good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, such as:

  • Eating foods high in nutrients & low in calories* 
  • Avoiding empty calories, like chips & candy 
  • Choosing foods low in cholesterol/fat
  • Avoiding saturated & trans fats
  • Drinking enough water every day **
  • Being physically active

* Some examples include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free/low-fat dairy products, seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds. 

** Set a series of alarms/reminders to drink water, track daily intake with a large water bottle, etc. 

Nutrients You Need

Calcium & Vitamin D

Adults who are 70 years of age and up usually need more calcium and vitamin D to maintain  bone health. 

It’s important to eat calcium-rich foods and beverages, like fortified cereal, dark leafy greens, canned fish, and plant-based beverages. Sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, eggs, and other fortified food items. 

If you take a calcium supplement or multivitamin, choose one with vitamin D.  

Vitamin B12

Adults who are aged 50 and up may need extra vitamin B12 in their system. Try fortified cereals, lean meats, fish, and seafood. You can talk to your doctor about whether a vitamin B12 supplement is right for you. 

Dietary Fiber

Eating fiber-rich foods helps your body process food and lowers your risk of developing conditions like heart disease or Type 2 diabetes. You can find fiber in whole-grain bread and cereal, beans, peas, lentils, whole fruits, and vegetables. 


Getting enough potassium and limiting salt intake can lower a person’s risk of high blood pressure. Eating fruits, vegetables, beans, and low-fat/fat-free dairy products are all sources of potassium. It’s best to try replacing salt with other herbs and spices to keep food flavourful and interesting. 

Good Fats

It’s important to get the right fats into our bodies. Seniors should look for foods with polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, like nuts, seeds, avocados, vegetable oil, and fish. 

Helpful Tips to Encourage Good Nutrition

Along with managing what we put into our bodies, we can employ other strategies to help promote good nutrition. If you or someone you love is struggling with healthy eating, try some of these techniques to help promote a good diet:

  • Organize a potluck or dinner with a friend to make eating more social
  • Talk to your dentist if you’re having trouble chewing 
  • Drink plenty of liquids with your meal if swallowing can be difficult 
  • Look into how any medications could be affecting your appetite, senses, etc. 
  • Add color and texture to your food to make it more interesting 
  • Try changing 3 big meals into 5 or 6 smaller meals/snacks 
  • If you struggle to cook for yourself, talk to your doctor

Get Nutrition Without a Hassle

A time can come when seniors need an extra hand to stay healthy and eat right. If you or someone you love has been struggling to stay healthy—whether from a lack of nutrition or mobility, or something else—we’re here to help you find a solution.Contact us today to learn more about our assisted living communities, services, amenities, and more; designed to support and care for seniors

Written by kaplan

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