The Best Nutrition Tips for Seniors
Read Time: 5 minutes, 30 seconds
Many aspects of good nutrition are universal: eating plenty of vegetables, limiting calories and junk food, and eating a variety of whole foods, for instance.
But there are differences too, from the very specific nutrient needs of people with certain medical needs to nutrition at different stages of life.
As we age, the body and brain change, and certain health problems become more common. If you are a trainer or nutrition coach, be prepared to work with older adults who have different needs from your clients in their 20s, 30s, or 40s.
The Importance of Healthy Eating as We Age
Eating a nutritious diet is important at every age, but as we get older, what we eat becomes even more important. If you’re over 40, you don’t need anyone to tell you that aging brings unique health challenges. From new aches and pains to serious health conditions, older adults are more vulnerable to a number of issues (1):
- Heart disease and hypertension become more likely as the blood vessels naturally stiffen.
- Bones lose density as we age, getting weaker and more brittle. This increases the risk of fractures.
- Metabolism slows down with age, which can lead to weight gain.
- Constipation becomes more common with age.
- The bladder loses elasticity as we age, which can lead to incontinence or difficulty fully emptying.
- Memory and cognitive function tend to decline with age. These are minor changes and the more extreme memory loss and dysfunction of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are not normal.
- Hearing and vision often change and diminish as we age.
- Oral health may decline with age.
- Skin becomes thinner, less elastic, and more easily damaged.
Adapting nutrition as you age helps mitigate some of these health problems. Diet alone cannot prevent all illnesses or health challenges, but it plays a big role. A healthy diet can help you live longer, be stronger and more active, feel better overall as you age, and enjoy a sharper mind.
What’s Different about Senior Nutrition?
For seniors, many aspects of good nutrition remain the same as when they were younger. But as we age and the body and brain change, some nutrients become more or less important. Understanding the full spectrum of a healthy diet for an aging adult is important for optimizing health, longevity, and quality of life.
Appetite Shifts with Age
This is an aging change that many people don’t expect, but as you get older your senses change. You don’t smell or taste things the same way, and that can impact how and what you eat. Loss of appetite can be an issue that leads to poor nutrition in seniors.
Home and Social Life Also Change
Older adults also go through major changes to their families and social circles. They may lose a spouse and find themselves living and eating alone for the first time in decades, for example. Social changes can lead to a poor diet because of depression or simply for practical reasons like not knowing how to shop for and cook healthy foods.
Nutrition Tips for Seniors Must Include Fewer Calories
Unfortunately, as we age our metabolism slows down. This makes it easier to gain weight and become overweight or obese. Make sure your senior clients understand their current calorie needs, and how these may have changed in the last decade or more.
In addition to reducing calorie intake and shifting to more nutrient-dense foods, your clients should be engaging in physical activity. Together diet and exercise can mitigate the effects of a slower metabolism.
They Should Also Consider Medical Conditions and Medications
Trainers and nutrition coaches are not doctors, but you do need to be aware of medical conditions to help your clients make better choices. For instance, a senior client with high blood pressure needs to avoid salty foods. Also remind your clients to talk to their doctors about how medications they take may affect nutrient absorption or interact with specific foods.
Top 9 Nutrition Tips for Seniors
Unless you are a nutritionist or dietician, you cannot plan meals for your senior clients or help them manage medical conditions. What you can do is educate them about proper nutrition and diet and guide them to make better choices. Here are some top tips for your seniors looking for nutrition advice:
1. Plan Meals and Shop by the List
This nutrition tip works for all ages. Plan meals and snacks by the week, make a shopping list, and stick with it. This helps reduce impulse buys at the store and ensures you have what you need by the week for healthy eating.
Eating healthy food doesn’t have to be difficult. These eight simple tips for a balanced diet work for anyone at any age.
2. Balance Each Meal
Educate your clients about how to make each meal a healthy balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Talk about focusing on whole grain, lean protein, and healthy fat as well as plenty of vegetable options and fresh fruit. Encourage them to eat a variety of different foods in these categories to maximize nutrient uptake.
3. Focus on Hydration
This is a simple nutrition change anyone can make. Some of the changes of aging include a lowered sense of thirst, which can lead to dehydration. Encourage older clients to record what they drink in a day and then adjust as needed. They should focus mostly on water and limit pop, juices, and alcohol.
4. Find Salt Alternatives
Seniors are more disposed to high blood pressure and heart disease, both aggravated by high salt intake. At the same time, the sense of taste diminishes, so many older adults turn to salt for flavor. Advise using low-sodium substitutes and using healthier seasonings, like spices and fresh herbs.
5. Load Up on Fiber-Rich Foods
Everyone needs fiber in their diet, and most Americans do not get enough. As we age, fiber becomes more important for maintaining regularity. Teach your clients the types of foods rich in fiber: whole fruits, beans, berries, and whole grains. Make sure they drink enough water with high-fiber foods or it can worsen constipation.
6. Include Foods Rich in Calcium and Vitamin D
As bones age, they get brittle and lose density. It becomes even more important to eat foods with these bone-building nutrients. Dairy is a good source of calcium, as are leafy greens, broccoli, and tofu. Exposure to sunlight triggers vitamin D formation, but this ability diminishes with age. To get vitamin D in the diet, include fatty fish, like salmon and mackerel, as well as fortified foods like milk or milk substitutes and cereals.
7. Make Healthier Choices for Convenience
Healthy eating doesn’t always have to be difficult or time-consuming. Many of your older clients may prefer to rely on fast options, like takeout or frozen meals. Help them make better choices in these situations:
- Choose frozen, plain vegetables over canned vegetables.
- Choose frozen fruit over canned fruits in syrup or juices.
- Order salads when out for meals and limit the amount of dressing.
- Keep bags of nuts, seeds, and fruit for quick, healthy snacks.
- Pick cereals made with whole grains and less sugar.
- Use bag salad mixes for a quick meal at home.
8. Track Calories
Some older adults may gain weight as their metabolism slows, but others lose weight and may struggle with malnutrition. Help your senior clients understand calorie intake and track numbers so they know how much to eat each day. A mobile phone app is a great way to do this.
If a client struggles to keep up with counting calories, try another strategy. Working on portion sizes can also help them understand how much to eat with each meal and snack.
9. Make Eating Social
Social health can decline with age. Many older adults find themselves in an increasingly smaller social circle. Eating better is easier with people who have the same goals. Encourage your clients to have healthy potlucks with friends or to go out for healthy meals together.
Nutrition counseling is a critical role that coaches and trainers play in the healthy lives of their clients. Basic nutrition advice is good for everyone, but when you have special populations it’s important to understand their special needs. Use these tips to guide older clients as they learn to make better diet and food choices.
Enjoy working with older adults? Expand your client offerings and learn how to better help seniors meet their goals by completing the ISSA online certification in Senior Fitness.
Senior Fitness Certification
By the year 2030, the number of Americans over the age of 65 will grow to over 63 million. This group now constitutes the fastest growing segment of our population. While this burgeoning segment of the personal training market constitutes a lucrative opportunity, the real value is in the joy you'll experience in changing people's lives.