After the age of 50, we gradually begin to lose muscle mass – a process known as sarcopenia. Since muscle makes up to 60% of body mass, it’s easy to see how this process can contribute to a number of health issues, like fatigue and loss of strength and stamina which in turn can impair balance and increase the risk of falls. Two of the main causes of sarcopenia include nutritional deficiencies and a decline in activity.
People tend to move less as they age, which means their muscle mass naturally begins to decrease and they burn fewer calories. This often contributes to a reduced appetite, which in turn can lead to lower energy and less exercise.
Appetite is also influenced by hormonal changes. People in the 75+ age group, in particular, are less likely to respond to hormones like cholecystokinin and ghrelin which are appetite regulators.
Unfortunately, changes in appetite can lead to nutrient deficiencies. And a nutrient-rich diet is one of the best ways to stay healthy as you grow older. If you’re aged 65+, or you’re caring for someone in this age bracket, you may have noticed a change in appetite. This can make it challenging to get all the nutrients needed each day. Luckily, we have a few senior nutrition tips that can help:
Focus on protein
After we hit 30, we lose between 3 and 8% of our muscle mass each decade. This loss contributes to decreased muscle strength, which increases the risk of balance problems and falls. This is why it’s crucial to make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet. One study found that elderly people who ate the least amount of protein daily lost 40% more muscle compared to the people who ate the most.
A diet rich in protein, combined with resistance exercise is one of the most effective ways to fight sarcopenia. New research has suggested that seniors should eat approximately 1g of protein per kg. So for someone weighing 70kg, a range of 60-70 grams of protein per day is ideal.
Consider nutrition density
One of the biggest challenges of elderly nutrition? Getting all the nutrients needed in the same or fewer calories.
Since there is less room for ‘wasted’ calories, consider foods that give the biggest bang for your nutrient buck. These include foods that are high in vitamin D and calcium for bone health, like milk and dairy products, canned fish, dark green vegetables, and fortified cereals.
B12 is also important, and you’ll find this in seafood, lean meat, and some cereals.
Many seniors are at risk of high blood pressure, and increased potassium and reduced sodium can help. Potassium can be found in beans, vegetables, and fruits, while you can increase flavour in your foods with spices and herbs (and skip the salt).
Stock up on fats
Trans fats and saturated fats can increase blood pressure, cholesterol, and your risk or heart disease. However healthy fats from nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, fatty fish, and avocado are super important. That’s because your body can’t create these essential fatty acids and your cells and organs need them to function efficiently.
Eat plenty of fibre
Constipation is common for seniors, often due to a lower fluid intake, decreased appetite, and less activity. You can stay regular by incorporating plenty of fibre in your diet. You’ll find fibre in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Fibre also helps prevent diabetes and it’s great for your heart.
How to prepare nutrient-rich meals
It’s easier than you might think to follow the above tips and create healthy, nutritious meals. Here are some great options:
Smoothies are an excellent breakfast option but you can also make them any time of the day. Simply throw some of the below foods in a blender and you’ll have a healthy meal that’s easy to eat even when you don’t feel hungry:
- Frozen fruit (berries, mango, and other fruit can be found in the frozen section of the supermarket)
- Nut butter
- Green vegetables like spinach (you won’t taste them)
- Flax meal
- Coconut water
Smoothies are great nutritional drinks for elderly people since you can play with many different ingredients until you find a few combinations you love. You can also pre-assemble the ingredients you need and keep them in the freezer so all you need to do is blend them together.
Sandwiches can be eaten for lunch or dinner, and they’re easy to throw together. Grab some chicken or turkey from the deli and add lettuce, avocado, tomato, cheese, and wholegrain bread for an easy, nutritious meal.
Soups are particularly great in winter, and you can make a large batch and freeze individual portions to eat later. These can often be made in a slow cooker so they’re cooking while you get on with your day.
Soups are also a good option for seniors who have difficulty swallowing and chewing. Use a low-sodium stock and incorporate plenty of fresh herbs and spices to add a flavour kick.
Nutrition for older adults is critical for an excellent quality of life. By following the above tips, you’ll boost your immune system, reduce your risk of heart disease, and fight sarcopenia.
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