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Healthy Eating and Older Adults

Topic Overview

Having good nutrition is important at any age. But it is especially important for older adults. Eating a healthy diet can help keep your body strong and can help lower your risk for disease.

But as you get older, it can be harder to eat in healthy ways. If you have health problems or can't be active, you may not feel as hungry as you used to. You may not plan and make meals as often.

The following is a list of common nutrition problems older adults have, plus some ideas for solutions.

Solutions to eating problems older adults may have

Problem

Ideas for solutions

You have health problems that make it hard to chew.

  • Pick canned or cooked fruit and vegetables, which tend to be softer.
  • Chop or shred meat, poultry, and fish. Try adding sauce or gravy to the meat to help keep it moist.
  • Pick other protein foods that are naturally soft, such as peanut butter, cooked dried beans, and eggs.

You have trouble shopping for yourself.

  • Find a local grocery store that offers home delivery service.
  • Contact a volunteer center and ask for help.
  • Ask a family member or neighbor to help you.
  • Pay someone to help you.

You have trouble preparing meals.

  • Use easy cooking methods, such as a microwave oven to cook TV dinners, other frozen foods, and prepared foods.
  • Take part in group meal programs offered through senior citizen programs.
  • Check for community programs that deliver meals to your home, such as Meals on Wheels.
  • Ask a friend or family member to help you.

You don't feel very hungry.

  • Try eating smaller amounts of food more often. For example, try having 4 or 5 small meals throughout the day instead of 1 or 2 large meals.
  • Eat with family and friends, or take part in group meal programs offered in your community. Eating with others provides social interaction and may help your appetite.
  • Ask your doctor if your medicines could be causing appetite or taste problems. If so, ask about changing medicines. Or ask your doctor about medicines that may improve your appetite.
  • Increase the flavor of food by adding spices and herbs.
  • If you think you are depressed and it is affecting your appetite, ask your doctor for help. Depression can make you less hungry and can make it hard to do everyday activities like grocery shopping and preparing meals.

You are worried about the cost of food.

  • Find out if there are programs in your community that offer free or low-cost meals.
  • Find out if you can get food stamps. Call the food stamp office listed in the state government section of the phone book.
  • Look into the U.S. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.
  • Buy low-cost nutritious foods, like dried beans, rice, and pasta. Or buy foods that contain these items, like split pea soup or canned beans.
  • Use coupons for discounts on foods.
  • Buy foods on sale and store-brand foods, which often cost less.
  • Buy shelf-stable foods in bulk or in large quantities.

Related Information

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2012). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Food and nutrition for older adults: Promoting health and wellness. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112(8): 1255–1277. Also available online: http://www.eatright.org/About/Content.aspx?id=8374.
  • Barberger-Gateau P, et al. (2007). Dietary patterns and risk of dementia: The three-city cohort study. Neurology, 69(20): 1921–1930.
  • Katz DL (2008). Dietary recommendations for health promotion and disease prevention. In Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 2nd ed., pp. 434–447. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, 7th ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Also available online: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2010.asp.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last Revised January 25, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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