No matter what your age, you’re never too old to practice good nutritional habits. Throughout the senior years, it’s important to continue eating a variety of healthful and nutritious foods to help keep your body strong and better able to fight disease. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes difficult for older adults to consume the variety of foods and nutrients that are needed to stay healthy.
With age, the human body inevitably undergoes several physical changes, some of which can influence food choices. Among the most common changes are loss or decline in taste and smell, loss of appetite, more frequent bouts of constipation and chewing problems. Following are some suggestions to help otherwise healthy older adults cope with these changes.
Diminishing Senses: Dulling of taste and smell is a normal part of the aging process for many people and may cause food to lose some of its flavor and appeal. To compensate for reduced taste or smell, try:
- using more herbs and spices,
- preparing meals with foods of different color and texture, and
- chewing food thoroughly to get the full flavor of the food.
Loss of Appetite: There does not seem to be a single cause for why many older adults say they don’t have an appetite. Some of the most common reasons are digestive problems, side effects from medications, anxiety, loneliness and depression. To perk up your appetite, try:
- eating four to six smaller meals during the day because smaller meals tend to be easier to digest;
- avoiding foods that cause you digestive problems, such as heartburn, gas or bloating; and
- increasing your activity level if you are able.
Constipation: As you age, your digestive system tends to become somewhat sluggish, which can cause constipation. To help stay regular and avoid constipation, try:
- drinking at least eight glasses of water daily to help your stools stay softer;
- eating several servings of fiber-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables and whole-grain breads and cereals; and
- staying physically active.
Chewing Problems: Problems or discomfort with chewing can be a major barrier to good nutrition. Oral health problems, such as tooth loss or mouth pain, may keep older adults from eating a well-balanced diet. To combat chewing problems, try:
- visiting your dentist – many oral health problems are treatable;
- choosing softer foods that are easier to chew; and
- drinking water or other beverages with meals to make swallowing easier.
To find out other ways you can deal with these common problems, talk to your doctor or consult a registered dietitian.
by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension