Five Myths about Senior Nutrition

A little girl, sitting on her mother's lap in a cafe, is feeding her grandfather a strawberry

Seniors may be at greater risk for malnutrition due to a range of physical, social and medical issues – from a decreased sense of taste and smell to living alone to chronic illness. To help empower seniors to maintain good eating habits, we’re exploring some myths about senior nutrition.

Myth #1: If you haven’t ever eaten healthy, it’s too late to start once you reach a certain age

It’s never too late to start eating well. A study conducted by Tufts University showed that among people age 65 and older, those who demonstrated healthy eating habits were less likely to die during a 13-year follow-up period. According to the National Institutes of Health, even if you already have one or more chronic diseases, eating well may help you better manage these conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

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

There may be many reasons why seniors lose interest in food, but this isn’t to say that when it happens, it should be ignored. In fact, it may be a symptom of a much larger problem such as depression, adverse reactions to medication, dental problems or other maladies. Dr. John E. Morley of St. Louis University, developed a screening tool to detect appetite problems in seniors. Dr. Morley goes so far as to say that, “for senior adults, weight loss correlates with death.” The good news, according to Morley, is that “90 percent of the diseases that cause weight loss in older adults are treatable.”

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

Being underweight has long been known as a red flag for possible health issues in the elderly. But geriatricians also focus on the dangers of being overweight. Because seniors may have lost interest in cooking, many rely on processed foods that are easy to fix, but that have little nutritional value. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34 percent of seniors are classified as obese and that number reaches 40 percent when you look at those between the ages of 65-74. Numerous studies have shown that obesity increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease.

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

Fats have gotten a lot of bad press, but science is beginning to take issue with this notion. First of all, many low-fat or nonfat foods are loaded with sugar (and therefore, calories), which can be more harmful to health than fats. Second, not all fats are created equal. Many foods high in fat – avocados, olive oil, wild salmon, walnuts – have numerous benefits and can actually help improve health. There are fats you should always avoid – trans fats being the main culprit, which you can identify on food labels when you see the word “hydrogenated.” The FDA recently ordered all food manufactures stop using trans fats within three years because of the potential danger they present. As with all things, it is best to eat all fats in moderation as part of a balanced 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. However, seniors may need more of some nutrients than their younger counterparts, including calcium and Vitamin D, which work together to strengthen bones. Bones lose density as we age, making these nutrients particularly important for seniors. Additionally, seniors are a greater risk of dehydration, making fluid intake an essential element of overall 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: Senior Health