The Top 4 Nutrition Tips for Seniors
How to support your health as you age
Are you interested in nutrition as you move into your “golden years” or wondering about nutrition for seniors? Small, practical changes can make a difference in overall well-being for older adults. Seniors have multiple factors influencing their eating habits. Perhaps decision fatigue from years of planning and preparing meals makes thinking about what you will prepare a challenge. You may find cooking difficult if you are a care taker for a loved one or perhaps you experience low appetite, fatigue, reduced mobility, or reduced interest in food. These are all potential barriers to adequate nutrition.
Although this article will focus on general nutrition tips to promote health, it is important to recognize that nutrition is not the only thing to consider during this life stage. Research demonstrates that loneliness is associated with cognitive decline in older adults and that having a strong support group and integrating meaningful activities into your life are also key to general well-being. Nutrition is only one piece to the puzzle!
The following nutrition for seniors tips will hopefully bring some awareness of common nutrition concerns as we age and tips on how to manage them. This blog post covers nutrition tips for dehydration, constipation in seniors, vitamin B12 for seniors, and adequate protein intake. Keep reading to learn more!
1. Focus on Fluids
There’s a higher risk of dehydration in seniors and older adults as as the body is less likely to send thirst signals and total body water stores decrease with age. Because of this, dehydration can occur quickly in seniors. Inadequate hydration can increase the risk for falls due to reduced blood pressure, dizziness, and confusion. It can also increase the risk for constipation and urinary tract infections. Severe dehydration can lead to delirium and is a significant medical concern. Some general signs of dehydration include dry mouth, dry tongue, rapid pulse, low blood pressure, confusion, and dizziness. It is recommended that seniors consume between 1.5-2.5 L of fluid daily (1,500-2,500 ml). Fluid needs are higher if vomiting and diarrhea are present or with increased sweating due to physical activity or being exposed to higher temperatures.
- Use a water bottle with measurements on it to keep track of your fluid intake. Sometimes the visual reminder of having your water bottle around you can help
- Bring a water bottle with you on errands and ensure you have water on hand during any physical activity
- Consider adding flavouring to your water. A squeeze of lemon, cucumber slices with mint sprigs, or a small splash of juice can add delicious flavour and make it more exciting to drink
- Tea and coffee count towards fluid intake, however, they act like a diuretic- meaning they increase urine output. Balance out your intake of tea and coffee with water and/or milk
- Soup broth, popsicles, and watery fruits and vegetables (i.e. watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers) count toward fluid intake
- If you take supplements or medication, consider taking them with a full glass of water versus sips
2. Keep Things Moving with Fibre!
The prevalence of constipation in seniors is 26% for women and 16% for men. Constipation can typically be helped with gentle movement, adequate dietary fibre intake, and increased fluid intake. It is recommended that older adults consume 21-30 grams of fibre daily. Fibre can be found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans/legumes, nuts and seeds. If you are aiming to increase your fibre intake, it is also vital to increase fluid intake to keep things moving along. Adding fibre to the day may look like adding some sliced cucumbers or a handful of baby carrots at lunch. It could also look like adding an apple or banana to your breakfast in the morning. Small adjustments and changes can help improve fibre intake. Here is a sample day of eating that would amount to 27 grams of fibre:
- Breakfast: 1 package instant oatmeal, blueberries, and pumpkin seeds
- Snack: whole grain crackers and cheese
- Lunch: egg salad sandwich with lettuce on whole grain bread with sliced cucumber on the side
- Snack: apple and peanut butter
- Dinner: baked chicken thighs, 1 small baked potato, and roast asparagus
It is important to note that there are other causes of constipation in older adults and fibre is not always the solution. If constipation has been a chronic concern or has worsened significantly, it is recommended you check-in with your primary care provider.
3. Check Your B12
Vitamin B12 is a micronutrient of interest in older adults as a deficiency is more prevalent as we age. In Canada, approximately 5% of the general population has a vitamin B12 deficiency. As we get older, absorption of vitamin B12 is less efficient as well as certain medications that are commonly taken, such as stomach acid-reducing medications (proton pump inhibitors) and metformin can decrease absorption. Vitamin B12 is an important micronutrient as it impacts cognition, blood cell production, and the production of cell membranes and neurotransmitters. Some good sources of vitamin B12 include:
- Cow’s milk (if you drink a milk alternative, check that it is fortified with vitamin B12)
- Fortified breakfast cereal
- Nutritional yeast
The best way to check for vitamin B12 deficiency is through a lab test with your doctor. If a deficiency is present, they will make recommendations on supplementation. Supplements are not necessarily needed if you have adequate vitamin B12 levels.
4. Consider Protein
As we age, muscle loss is common due to reduced food intake, impaired mobility, less protein uptake by muscles, and age-related changes in digestion and absorption. Considering your protein intake may be important if you often shy away from protein foods. I often recommend for clients to include a grain or starch, fruit or vegetable, and protein at every meal to promote adequate intake of all three macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat). Of particular interest for maintaining muscle mass is the amino acid leucine. Leucine is a branched-chain amino acid and there is good evidence to support that it helps “turn on” muscle synthesis. Leucine can be found in all protein foods in varying amounts. It is the highest in animal products but can be found in many protein-containing foods including meat, fish, dairy, peanut butter, nuts, peas, and cheese.
How can you increase protein intake during the day?
- Consider adding Greek yogurt to things like smoothies or oatmeal. It also makes a great snack and can be topped with nuts, seeds, or granola
- Nuts and seeds can easily be sprinkled on top of breakfast cereals, yogurt, oatmeal, or on salads
- Consider adding nut butter to toast instead of just jam or butter
- Milk contains 8 grams of protein per 1 cup and can be an easy protein source
- Eggs can be an easy protein source as they can be cooked in minutes
- Add cheese to things such as salads, eggs, mashed potatoes, and pasta
- Although it is always recommended to consume food first if you are struggling to include protein a nutrition supplement drink or protein powder can help. I recommend consulting with a dietitian to determine what is best for you.
Nutrition for seniors is important as you age. Older adults struggle with unique nutrition concerns. If you feel confused with the information out there and have further questions on how to best support adequate nutrition as you age, our registered dietitians can help!
Looking for additional ways to support your health as you age?
Have additional questions on nutrition for seniors or finding a nutrition plan that’s right for you? Our team of Dietitians at Health Stand Nutrition are here to help!
Our Registered Dietitian / Online Nutritionist team has supported people with nutrition education and practical meal-planning ideas since 2000. We can work with you to simplify an eating plan that helps you take charge of your eating and feel your best.
Book a session with myself or any of the capable and compassionate Registered Dietitians on our team – we’re here for you!
Check out these related blogs on our website:
- Boss, L., Kang D.H., Branson, S. (2015. Loneliness and cognitive function in the older adult: a systematic review. International Psychogeriatrics, 27(4), 541-553.
- Rowe, T. A., & Juthani-Mehta, M. (2013). Urinary tract infection in older adults. Aging health, 9(5), 10.2217/ahe.13.38. https://doi.org/10.2217/ahe.13.38
- Schuster, B. G., Kosar, L., & Kamrul, R. (2015). Constipation in older adults: stepwise approach to keep things moving. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, 61(2), 152–158.
- Stover P. J. (2010). Vitamin B12 and older adults. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 13(1), 24–27. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0b013e328333d157
- MacFarlane, A.J., Greene-Finestone, L.S., & Shi, Y. (2011). Vitamin B-12 and homocysteine status in a folate-replete population: results from the Canadian Health Measures Survey, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 94(4), 1079–1087, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.111.020230
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements (2022, March 9). Vitamin B12: fact sheet for health professionals. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/#:~:text=The%20DV%20for%20vitamin%20B12%20is%202.4%20mcg%20for%20adults,years%20and%20older%20%5B21%5D.
- Morley, J. E., Argiles, J. M., Evans, W. J., Bhasin, S., Cella, D., Deutz, N. E., … & for Sarcopenia, T. S. (2010). Nutritional recommendations for the management of sarcopenia. Journal of The American Medical Directors association, 11(6), 391-396
- McKendry, J., Stokes, T., Mcleod, J. C., & Phillips, S. M. (2021). Resistance Exercise, Aging, Disuse, and Muscle Protein Metabolism. Comprehensive Physiology, 11(3), 2249–2278. https://doi.org/10.1002/cphy.c200029
Disordered Eating, Emotional Eating & Chronic Disease
Thoughtful and empathetic are words often used to describe Courtney. She strives to create genuine connections with clients and works to create an inclusive space for all. She is passionate about working with individuals struggling with health issues, yo-yo dieting recovery, disordered eating and helping clients feel at peace with food and their bodies.