Senior Living Blog

Seniors and Nutrition: Separating Fact from Fiction

July 20, 2022

Shot of a elderly man holding a grocery bag in the kitchen

Seniors may be at greater risk for malnutrition due to a range of physical, social and medical issues. Skilled nursing facilities work diligently to help ensure their residents receive the nutrition they need to maintain optimum health. Here are several of the ways skilled nursing facilities and their dietary departments maintain senior nutrition:

  • They offer numerous food options to accommodate people with dietary restrictions, including those living with diabetes, high blood pressure, and dysphagia.
  • They welcome input from their residents on the kinds of food they like. If you create foods people like to eat, there is a greater the chance they’ll enjoy their meal and eat with greater appetite. This is particularly appropriate for people living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.
  • They include registered dietitians and nutritionists in their dietary staff to stay informed on the most appropriate way to help keep their residents safe, healthy and nurtured with food that is appropriate for them.

Our understanding of nutrition has greatly improved in recent decades. Still, myths persist about seniors and nutrition. Here are some of the outdated ideas we now know are not true:

Myth #1: If you didn’t eat healthfully when you were young, it’s too late to start now.

It’s never too late to start eating well. According to the National Institutes of Health, even if you already have one or more chronic diseases, eating well may help you better manage conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Mediterranean-style diets—with an emphasis on eating lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains with moderate amounts healthy fats—can benefit a person at any age.

Myth #2: A loss of appetite or weight loss is no cause for concern.

Shrinking numbers on the scale is not always a good thing. Loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss may be a symptom of other issues, such as depression, medication reactions or dental problems. Unintentional weight loss in seniors should be brought to the attention of a primary care provider as it could lead to further health issues like fatigue or falls.

Myth #3:  If you’re not underweight, you’re not undernourished.

Being underweight can be a red flag for possible health issues in the elderly. But geriatricians also focus on the dangers of being overweight. Carrying excess mass increases a person’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease. But it is possible to be overweight while still failing to consume all the vitamins and nutrients the body needs to function optimally.

Myth #4: “Low fat” is synonymous with “healthy.”

Many low-fat or nonfat foods trade that fat flavor for additional sugar, which can be more harmful to health than fats. Additionally, not all fats are created equal. Many foods high in fat—such as avocados, olive oil, salmon, walnuts—can be a part of a healthy diet.

Myth #5:  Seniors need fewer nutrients than the rest of the population.

In many respects, a healthful diet for seniors consists of the same foods you often hear of when people discuss nutrition—a variety of fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains. There are some specific things that are more important to senior diets, including calcium and vitamin D, which work together to strengthen bones. Seniors are also at a higher risk of dehydration, so fluid intake is an important part of senior nutrition.

This article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Speak to your doctor and/or a registered dietitian if you have questions about your nutritional needs.


Categories: Nutrition