Understanding Liquid Nutrition Diets and Supplementation For Seniors

By: Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS®

Fact-checked by: Kathryn Bubeck, Registered Dietician

Liquid nutrition sources have their place in a senior’s diet when used properly. Learn more about liquid diets and supplements for older adults including when to use them and some recommended sources.

Income Disclosure: I recommend products based on my personal experience working with seniors. I may earn a commission on items purchased from links in this guide. Learn More.

Aging comes with a variety of different challenges that seniors need to face. One of the biggest of these is getting the nutritional value that an aging body needs from its diet.

A lack of appetite combined with reduced metabolism and problems chewing, swallowing and digesting whole foods can all contribute to poor nutrition in the elderly. A liquid diet can provide a solution to either supplement an existing diet or as a full dietary replacement to ensure that seniors are receiving the nutrients that the body needs to function optimally.

Why Would Seniors Require Nutritional Liquid Dietary Food Sources?

There are any number of reasons why seniors may have difficulty consuming solid foods and could benefit from a liquid diet:

  • Loss of appetite is one of the primary reasons why seniors struggle to get proper nutrition. Seniors require less calories, may experience changes in taste and smell, could be facing health challenges as well as changes in digestion which can all contribute to a loss of appetite.
  • Poor dental health is another cause of poor nutrition in the elderly. Many seniors struggle to masticate or chew food. Chewing is not only important to aid digestion but also to ensure the optimal absorption of nutrients. A liquid diet bypasses the need to chew while ensuring optimal nutrition and absorption of nutrients.
  • Psychological issues that seniors face may also affect their diet. Depression is more common among the elderly and can result in a loss of appetite. Cognitive degenerative disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can result in seniors simply forgetting to eat or even refusing to eat all together.
  • Physical health deteriorates as we age and illness or disease can make it more difficult for the elderly to consume food, negatively impact digestion and may also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. A liquid diet is often a good option to ensure proper nutrition for seniors with physical health conditions like dysphagia and swallowing disorders that keep them from consuming healthy, nutritious solid foods.

It is always recommended that the nutrients the body needs come from a proper diet rather than relying on supplements and multivitamins. The right liquid diet allows the body to continue receiving nutrition from natural food sources and is the preferred way to supplement a soli food diet. Because a proper liquid diet is packed full of the nutrients the body needs, it may also the ideal solution to fully replace a solid or soft-food diet.

Are Liquid Diets Safe For Seniors?

The human digestive system is not designed to solely digest liquid food sources for an extended period of time. Some side-effects of an entirely liquid diet can be:

  • Constipation. It is a common misconception that a liquid diet results in diarrhea. A lack of fiber in a liquid diet does in fact cause constipation. It is therefore important to ensure that a senior is receiving sufficient fiber in order to aid digestion and prevent constipation.
  • Malnutrition. It can be difficult to ensure proper nutrition on a liquid diet. It is essential to ensure that the diet includes all major food groups and that the nutrients can be optimally absorbed through digestion.
  • Electrolyte imbalance. Minerals are essential nutrients and include calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and other trace elements. If these nutrients are lacking in a diet, it can result in muscle spasms, fatigue and a variety of other health ailments.

It is generally not recommended for a purely liquid diet to continue for more than 2 weeks and to include whole foods in the diet of a senior as much as possible.

How To Ensure Proper Nutrition For Seniors On A Liquid Diet?

It is crucial that the body receives all the nutrients that it requires in order to function optimally. A liquid diet should contain the 3 main food groups:

  • Carbohydrates which provide the fuel the body needs to function.
  • Proteins that are required to build and regenerate cells.
  • Fats that provide essential fatty acids and are also a source of energy.

Seniors require less calories and it is therefore optimal to ensure that a liquid supplement or diet is higher in proteins and fats.

Vitamins are essential nutrients that fulfill a variety of different functions in the human body. They are also critical for immune system function and overall health and well-being.

A liquid diet should contain all the following vitamins in the daily amount that is recommended for seniors according to research by Oregon State University:

  • 700 – 900 mcg Vitamin A
  • 75 – 90 mg Vitamin C
  • 15 to 20 mcg Vitamin D
  • 15 mcg Vitamin E
  • 90 to 120 mcg Vitamin K
  • 1.5 – 1.7 mg Vitamin B6
  • 2.4 mcg Vitamin B12
  • 400 mcg Folate

It is as important not to exceed the daily recommended value for fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, & K. Water soluble (B & C) pass through the body if not needed.

Essential minerals and trace elements are critical to ensuring an electrolyte balance as well as fulfilling some important bodily functions. Essential minerals that must be included in the liquid diet of an elderly person include:

  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Chloride
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Iodine
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Fluoride
  • Molybdenum
  • Manganese
  • Selenium

An excess of any one of these minerals will have its own negative consequences and that a balance is crucial when it comes to ensuring the optimal nutritional value of minerals on a daily basis.

It is important to note though that mineral needs are different for older adults that have certain medical conditions (i.e.: low potassium + phosphorus diet for kidney disease). So, always discuss mineral intake with your doctor or a dietician.

If a senior is on a full liquid diet, it is important to assess whether they are receiving the nutrition they require and monitor them for signs of malnutrition. The symptoms of malnutrition include:

  • Lack of energy, lethargy or tiredness.
  • Hair loss.
  • Fragile, dry or cracked skin.
  • More prone to illness.
  • Slow healing wounds.
  • Bruising.
  • Depression.
  • Memory loss or other signs of cognitive degeneration.

It can be difficult to detect or attribute these signs to malnutrition in the elderly as these are often also the signs of aging. However, a senior on a liquid diet may require additional supplements to ensure that their daily nutritional requirements are being met.

How Can Liquid Nutrition Be Used To Boost Overall Nutrition For Seniors?

First and foremost, it is crucial to find liquid supplements that are designed to meet the nutritional requirements of seniors. It is recommended to use a liquid supplement at every meal time.

Because seniors often suffer from a lack of appetite, smaller meals on a more regular basis is recommended. A liquid supplement therefore also does not need to be consumed in one go but can be portioned out to meet nutritional needs throughout the day.

It is also important to address the unique nutritional requirements of the individual rather than taking an overall approach to liquid supplementation. For example, a senior who is underweight can benefit from liquid nutrition that is higher in carbohydrates and protein. A senior suffering from poor health and skin conditions can benefit from liquid nutrition aimed at increasing the intake of essential vitamins. Seniors who need an energy boost might try an energy drink if it is safe to do so.

A visit to a doctor or a nutritionist can help identify the unique nutritional requirements of an individual senior.

RELATED: Debunking Nutrition Myths for the Elderly

Ideas For Healthy Nutritional Liquid Sources For Seniors

You have a number of options available to you for providing a full liquid diet for a senior or supplementing a diet with liquid nutrition. 

Smoothies

Smoothies are a popular choice as a liquid nutritional supplement. It provides the benefit of adding food sources to a diet in liquid form to meet specific individual requirements. You can even make these at home yourself. However, it is important to ensure that the nutritional needs of the senior are being met with the smoothie and that all the food groups as well as essential vitamins and minerals are included.

Supplement Powders or Formulas

Supplemental powders that can be added to either milk or water are a good option for seniors or caregivers who don’t have the time or the resources to make their own smoothies. These powders are a good way to address a wide range of different requirements. It is important to choose powders that are specifically designed to meet the nutritional needs of seniors.

Ready-to-Drink Shakes

These are the ideal solution for seniors and their caregivers who need a quick and healthy meal replacement or to supplement a diet. These shakes are ready-made and come in cartons or bottles that provide a single meal replacement or can be portioned out to meet the ongoing daily nutritional requirements. When using these shakes, it is important to follow the instructions carefully to avoid either a lack of nutrients or an excess. 

I recommend liquid nutrition products from KateFarms (check them out here) to support the requirements of seniors. They have a variety of products both in the form of ready-to-drink nutritional shakes and formulas that are specifically designed to meet the nutritional needs of adults and seniors. They were kind enough to send me some free samples and I quickly became a customer myself. I’ve never been much of a fan of pre-made shakes. They have always tasted fake and chalky to me. But, KateFarms shakes are smooth without that gritty mouthfeel

These products are aimed at maintaining a healthy body weight while preventing malnutrition that often accompanies a poor diet or loss of appetite that is common in seniors. The shakes are produced from plant-based materials and contain no major allergens. This is ideal to promote digestive health and for seniors who have gastrointestinal health conditions or food allergies.

Kate Farms Organic Meal Replacement Nutrition Shake

$48.00 ($4.00/bottle)

These delicious and convenient plant-based shakes come in flavors (vanilla, chocolate, and coffee) with USDA Organic protein and powerful phytonutrients for optimal health.

  • High percentage of phytonutrients sourced from various nutrient-rich foods like green tea, acai, turmeric, and broccoli. 
  • Reputation for using the best ingredients like USDA organic pea protein for high-quality nourishment that keep your aging body fed, energized, and healthy.
  • It comes in three flavors: vanilla, coffee, and chocolate.
See It At KateFarms.com

Wrapping Up

Liquid nutrition sources and supplements have their place in a senior’s diet when used properly. It’s important to monitor nutrients in the liquid foods sources you choose to serve though. If using home sources, keep a log or journal or use commercial sources where nutrients have been readily identified and quantified.

About the Expert

Because I strive to provide you with accurate information, I had this article fact-checked by Kathryn Bubeck, RD, LDN a registered dietician in North Carolina. She has dual bachelor degrees in Nutrition and Health Behavior Management and is currently pursuing a medical degree with a focus on oncology.
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