Where's Mom's Appetite?
It’s no secret that our nutritional needs change as we age. If we don’t address those needs, we will eventually face poor nutrition or malnutrition. That’s what’s happening to many seniors today. According to the Alliance for Aging Research, 3.7 million seniors are malnourished in America. Symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss or gain, general malaise, lack of interest and lack of overall wellness.
Adequate nutrition is certainly a challenge as our loved one grows older. Senior nutritional needs are different than ours. Age-related changes not only affect how they process food, but also affect their appetite. Here are some age-related changes to be aware of if poor nutrition is an issue:
- The metabolism slows down. This happens naturally as we age, but becomes more pronounced if we don’t exercise. Overall, the body doesn’t burn as many calories when we get older and it becomes less efficient at absorbing key nutrients. That means seniors need fewer calories, and because of that the food they eat should be as rich in nutrients as possible.
- The digestive system changes. Older bodies produce less fluid needed to process food. This makes it harder to digest important nutrients such as folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12.
- The appetite changes. Many seniors take one or more daily medications that can easily affect their appetite or cause nausea. Social or economic factors can also affect appetite, such as loss of a spouse or family member, a lack of interest in cooking, financial concerns and hospitalizations.
- There are changes in emotional health. Many seniors become depressed or experience feelings of loneliness as they age and that often results in a loss of appetite. On the other hand, some people tend to eat more and gain unwanted pounds.
Smaller portions are a first step for seniors. Eating good, nutritious foods is next. Healthy meals for seniors should include adequate amounts of the following nutrients:
- Vitamin B12. Seniors should eat foods rich in B12, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and milk products.
- Folate / Folic Acid. Include breakfast cereals and plenty of fruits in your loved one’s diet.
- Calcium. Three servings a day of low-fat milk and other dairy products is best.
- Vitamin D. This important vitamin helps the body absorb calcium, maintains bone density and prevents osteoporosis.
- Potassium. This essential mineral, found in fruit and vegetables, is vital for cell function and has been shown to reduce high blood pressure and the risk of kidney stones.
- Magnesium. Getting enough magnesium can keep your loved one’s immune system in shape, their heart healthy and bones strong.
- Fiber. Foods rich in fiber, such as whole grains, beans, fruit and vegetables help promote healthy digestion by moving food through the digestive tract.
- Omega-3 Fats. Found primarily in fish, these essential fats should be a regular part of a heart-healthy diet. They also help to reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and the progression of macular degeneration. New research points to a reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well.
With delicious and nutritious meals like that, Mom’s appetite is sure to return.