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.
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 is another change as individuals age. There seems to be no 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. You should also avoid foods that cause digestive problems such as heartburn, gas or bloating. Increase your activity level, too, if you are able.
A tendency for constipation is another problem as a person ages. The digestive system tends to become somewhat sluggish, which can cause constipation. To help stay regular and avoid constipation, drink at least eight glasses of water daily to help your stools stay softer, eat several servings of fiber rich foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grain breads and cereals, and stay physically active.
Problems or discomfort with chewing can be a major barrier to good nutrition. Oral health problems, such as tooth loss or mouth pain, may prevent older adults from eating well balanced diets. To combat chewing problems, be sure and visit your dentist – many oral health problems are treatable. You can also choose softer foods that are easier to chew and drink water or other beverages with meals to make swallowing easier.
For more information on ways you can deal with these common problems, talk to your doctor, consult a registered dietitian or contact the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Family and Consumer Education Extension Agent in your county.
Additional articles on Healthy Aging are available from Colorado State University by going to www.ext.colostate.edu, clicking on Info Online, Consumer/Family then scrolling to Healthy Aging.