With age, we experience physical as well as lifestyle changes. Some of these changes may affect the way we process food, our dietary needs and preferences and even our ability to follow a routine which allows us to receive the right types and amounts of nutrition our bodies need.
Making sure that we eat well will allow us to live longer and enjoy a higher quality of life. Recognise some of the reasons why you might not be eating appropriately as you age and take steps to make changes for the better.
Common Reasons for a Change in Our Nutritional Needs
Changes in Metabolism
One of the most obvious reasons why people need to adjust their food intake happens when you reach your forties. Your metabolism begins to slow down and your digestive system no longer processes food as efficiently as it used to. Your body may find it harder to absorb much needed minerals and vitamins, your digestive tract may need more fiber to help it function well, and you may find that fat and sugar in your food goes straight to your waistline instead of being used up as energy.
Chronic Health Issues
By the time most of us reach the third stage of our lives, we will probably be saddled with at least one, if not several chronic health issues. Heredity, lifestyle or just the accumulation of years of stress and wear and tear on our systems are likely to result in diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and more. Managing these chronic illnesses requires special care and often a special diet too.
Some medications can result in a loss in appetite or a change in your ability to perceive certain tastes. These might result in a poor eating routine and the excessive salting or sweetening of food. Too much sodium and sugar in the diet have a negative impact on your health in the long run as they tend to exacerbate blood sugar problems, heart disease and a whole host of other diseases.
Changes in Your Ability to Taste
Most seniors will find that they slowly lose their ability to taste foods. This then lead them to add more salt and sugar to their diets. This should be avoided as we need less salt and sugar as our metabolisms slow down and our bodies change.
Depression and Living Alone
Life changes such as the death of a spouse, divorce, or just the reality of growing older and finding that you are getting lonelier can have a big impact on the nutritional routines of older people.
The loss of a spouse may sometimes mean not only the loss of a companion at each meal, but maybe even the loss of the ability to prepare meals on your own. Whether it’s through a loss of appetite or an inability to organise and prepare nutritious meals, lifestyle changes can result in malnutrition or poor eating habits in older people who live alone.
For older people who have experienced financial loss or who have not been able to save significantly, the last few decades of life may see them having to reduce their spending. In extreme circumstances, this may mean that they are not getting to eat regular meals each day, in less extreme ones, they may be substituting foods for lower quality, cheaper alternatives. Both these behaviours will result in malnutrition and have an impact on their health as well as psychological outlook.
How to Eat Better
Focus on Quality
Recognise that whilst regular meals are important, the shift should move from quantity to quality. Try to eat foods which are nutritionally high in value. Proteins with less fat, “good” oils from foods such as fish, avocadoes and olives. Whole grains and vegetables for fibre, vitamins and minerals; and sugars from natural sources such as fruits.
Avoid Adding Too Much Salt and Sugar to Your Foods
If your medications are leading you to add salt and sugar to your food, speak to your doctor to see if there is a way to mitigate these side effects. Consider adding spices and herbs to make your food more appealing instead of reaching for the salt and sugar.
Build exercise into your daily routine. Not only does exercise make you feel better and more positive about yourself, but it also increases your energy levels and gives you a better appetite. Daily exercise will also help your digestion making it easier for you to process food.
Whilst you may not need to eat as much as you grow older, you need to eat regularly. Don’t skip meals and try to have smaller meals more often during the day.
Don’t Eat Alone
Try not to eat too many meals alone. Whether you eat with a companion, your family or friends, you will find that you eat healthier and better together.
Get Help with Meals
If you are unable to cook or prepare meals on your own, try and get some help. Have a family member arrange to cook for you, or subscribe to a home cooked meal delivery service.
Article first appeared in Families for Life (hyperlink www.familiesforlife.sg) on Sep 2015. Republished with permission.
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