Eating a balanced diet is a basic need we all have in order to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. This is a universal truth, but nutrition becomes more critical as we age. Some seniors struggle to get all the nutrients they need, and many are at a higher risk of malnutrition, often due to a decreased appetite. Even as seniors need to be especially careful about getting proper nutrition, meeting this goal becomes harder. If you’re a senior or have a loved one who is, the good news is that there are simple ways you can work around these barriers.
Beyond Nutrition to Holistic Health
The first thing to realize is that nutrition is tied to many other aspects of our lives. Physical limitations, being active, your social surroundings — they all impact dietary choices and nutrition. One of the best ways seniors can improve nutrition is to take a holistic approach to their health. This means addressing mobility problems through physical or occupational therapy, finding ways to be active, and staying socially engaged to boost your mental health.
If this goal sounds a little overwhelming, don’t try to do it all on your own! There are lots of great holistic wellness programs for seniors, and if you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you may be eligible for one through your insurance benefits. Even if you don’t have these benefits right now, you can always switch to a plan that includes wellness services the next time you enroll.
Don’t Forget About Your Gut Health
As part of a holistic approach to health, it’s important to be aware of nutrition issues that are less well-known. One of these is gut health, especially your microbiome, which basically means the microbes that are in your digestive tract. You’ve probably heard of “good” bacteria and how they can be found in certain foods. We call these prebiotic and probiotic foods, and they have a major impact on your health, beyond just your digestive system. These foods help keep you healthy physically, but they also impact your mood and can even keep your mind sharp.
Taking care of gut health is important at every age, but Sixty and Me explains how it becomes more important for seniors, as your microbiome loses diversity as you age. An easy way to fight this is to eat lots of probiotic and prebiotic foods. Some of the best are fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, and kefir. Legumes, beans, and any food high in fiber are great choices too.
Good Food for Less
For many seniors, being on a tight budget is a barrier to nutrition. Convenience foods, which typically don’t pack much of a nutrient punch, are often cheaper than fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t eat good food for less! Woman’s Day has some of the best tips for eating on a budget, including buying frozen fruits and vegetables, buying store brands, and buying fresh produce in season.
Another issue for some seniors who live alone is that they don’t know how to cook for just one person. An ideal solution to this problem is to make batch meals. If you have more than just a few portions, plan on freezing part of what you make. This way, you won’t get tired of eating the same meal repeatedly, and you’ll have more meals to pull out and eat later on. Making batch meals is also economical, so it’s a win-win solution.
The reality of nutritional needs for seniors is that it takes more than just switching up a few things in your diet. It requires making conscious choices to prepare inexpensive, healthier meals, as well as an awareness of your holistic health needs. Even if it takes time, making choices to put yourself first will be worth it for the amazing boost to your health.
Contributed by Jennifer McGregor
Jennifer co-created Public Health Library to make it easier for people to find high quality health information. She is a pre-med student who enjoys writing about health and medical topics to help the readers find reputable health resources.