Thanks to technology and improvements in medicine, people are living longer. As a result, it’s more important than ever to develop healthy habits as we get older. While your genetics may play a significant role in the aging process, aging adults can still take steps to encourage better health. In this article, we review some of the common questions and concerns that older adults may have as they try to develop or maintain healthy eating habits.
Ways to Age More Healthfully
CONCERN #1 – I’m not thirsty, so why should I drink more water?
Our fluid needs don’t change much as we age, yet we may not feel as thirsty. It’s common to feel sluggish and tired instead of thirsty and opt for a nap rather than a glass of water or cup of tea.
The aging process influences thirst, as do many medications. Medications can pack a one-two punch by increasing urination and decreasing appetite or thirst.
Do a color check to determine your hydration: aim for clear or pale-yellow urine. If it’s dark yellow, reach for a drink. If you don’t like plain water, flavor it with slices of citrus fruits, berries, mint, or even cucumber. Get creative! Sparkling water, hot tea, and milk are also good choices.
People may try to drink less water to avoid trips to the bathroom. However, it’s possible to weaken bladder muscles by putting off urination and holding urine in your bladder; this can also increase the likelihood of a bladder infection. Try pelvic muscle exercises and “timed voiding”, which is going to the restroom at the same times, to help combat this common complaint. Always make sure you can safely get to the bathroom.
Read more at the National Institute on Aging.
CONCERN #2 – I’m not that hungry. Do I really need to eat three meals a day?
While calorie needs decrease as we age, specific nutrient requirements may actually increase. This makes for a challenge if we don’t feel as hungry.
Our digestive system changes as we age; we might feel like some parts are moving more slowly and some much more quickly! Medications can also impact our digestive system and food may stay in our stomach a little longer, both of which may reduce appetite. However, we don’t absorb some nutrients as well, so eating nutritious foods become even more important.
- Try to have some protein and at least 1 or 2 fruits and vegetables at each meal.
- Dairy is a great source of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin A.
- Choose whole grain foods like oatmeal over refined grains like white flour whenever possible.
If you’re not feeling hungry, but it’s been more than four or five hours since you’ve eaten last, try for something light like a smoothie, yogurt and berries, or half a banana with peanut butter. Three meals a day is fine if you have the appetite, but four or five smaller meals may better suit your needs.
Ask your doctor or dietitian if you should consider taking a vitamin or mineral supplement.
Read more about healthy weight and proper nutrition for older adults from The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
CONCERN #3 – I don’t enjoy the same foods that I used to. Nothing tastes the same!
Many factors are at play here: our senses change as we age, so food may smell and taste different.
Older adults may find that they enjoy sweets more than they used to. This may lead to more candies or desserts and less fruits and vegetables. Use the natural sweetness of produce to satisfy your sweet tooth and get in some fiber and antioxidants:
- Snack on fruits, pair them with nuts, or try them for dessert.
- Roast or bake vegetables to bring out their natural sweetness.
- Add cut-up grapes to chicken salad, cranberries to winter squash, or fruit to plain yogurt.
Experiment with Different Herbs & Spices
Experiment with different herbs, spices, and vinegars to enhance the flavor of foods. Try these salt-free seasoning blends. Combine ingredients and store in a tightly covered container or freeze. Rub or sprinkle them on food for added flavor.
1 tablespoon fresh = 1 teaspoon dried
Mixed herb blend:
- 1/4 cup dried parsley flakes
- 2 tablespoons dried tarragon
- 1 tablespoon each of dried oregano, dill weed and celery flakes
- 2 tablespoons each of dried basil and dried marjoram
- 1 tablespoon each of garlic powder and dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons each of thyme, crushed dried rosemary and crushed red pepper
- 1/4 cup chili powder
- 1 tablespoon each of ground cumin and onion powder
- 1 teaspoon each of dried oregano, garlic powder and ground red pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
CONCERN #4 – I live alone and don’t find the joy in cooking for one as I did when I was cooking for a family.
There are many resources with recipes and nutrition tips for older adults, specifically cooking for 1 or 2:
- Med Instead of Meds
- Kansas State University – Cooking for 1 or 2
- Canned Food Alliance
- National Institute on Aging
- National Council on Aging
Making a Half Recipe
Use this guide if you would like to halve a recipe.
Healthy Breakfast Ideas
You don’t have to cook a big breakfast, but try to start your day with a healthy one. Here are some ideas to get you going:
CONCERN #5 – I feel as healthy as I ever did. Why do I have to be extra careful about food safety?
From the FDA:
By 65, many of us have been diagnosed with one or more chronic conditions. The side effects of some medications or the chronic disease process may weaken the immune system, causing older adults to be more susceptible to contracting a foodborne illness. As you age, your immunity to infection naturally is weakened. After 75, many adults have a weakened immune system and are at an increased risk for contracting a foodborne illness. Should older adults contract a foodborne illness, they are more likely to have a lengthier illness, undergo hospitalization, or even die. Be especially vigilant when handling, preparing, and consuming foods.
Use this guide for foods that may pose increased risk of causing foodborne illness and read more at these websites:
- Food Safety for Older Adults & People with Cancer, Diabetes […]
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service
Additional Resources on Healthy Aging
- National Institute on Aging
- Eldercare Locator | 1-800-677-1116 (toll-free)
- BenefitsCheckUp | 1-571-527-3900
- National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs | 1-202-682-6899
About Meredith Ebersohl, RD
Meredith is a registered dietitian who teaches nutrition classes, offers one-on-one nutrition counseling, and develops education material. She is passionate about explaining nutrition research and helping people incorporate sustainable changes in their lives. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her husband, their two young children, and their middle-aged pets.