The Top 10 Nutrition Tips for Older Adults

By: Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS®

Fact-checked by: Kathryn Bubeck, Registered Dietician

Sticking to a healthy diet can be challenging, especially for seniors. Thankfully, while eating right can be difficult, it’s far from impossible. These 10 nutrition tips will make it easier for seniors to eat right on a daily basis.

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Poor nutrition and malnutrition are unfortunately common in seniors. (1) Older adults are at an increased risk of serious health issues, and there are many challenges that can make it difficult for the elderly to get the foods they need. Many seniors have difficulty chewing and swallowing, and elderly adults often struggle to adjust to the changing needs of their bodies. 

That’s why it’s important to be proactive about a senior’s diet. These tips will help you to take a better approach to nutrition. You’ll be able to make smarter food choices and reduce the risk of health problems linked to poor nutrition in seniors and older adults

1. Focus On Foods That Are Nutrient Dense 

While seniors need the same nutrients that they did when they were younger, older bodies require fewer calories. This means it’s important for older adults to choose foods that are packed with nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, and dark leafy greens. 

When you’re cutting your calorie intake, you need to make sure every calorie counts. Try to avoid empty calories and seek out foods that will give you some nutritional bang for your buck! Read the nutritional labels of pre-packaged foods so that you can get a better sense of what these foods contain. 

2. Pick Foods High In Fiber 

Fiber is an important nutrient, especially for seniors. As many adults grow older, their insulin resistance increases while their pancreatic function declines, putting them at increased risk for type 2 diabetes. (2) Soluble fiber helps the body to release glucose into the bloodstream at a slower pace, making it easier to control blood sugar levels. (3)

In addition to this important benefit, high-fiber foods can improve digestion and help prevent constipation and diarrhea. Fiber can also aid in weight loss, making it easier for seniors to maintain a healthy weight. (4) Great sources of fiber include pears, apples, carrots, beets, and lentils. 

3. Watch Sodium Intake Closely

Not only do seniors need to make sure they’re taking in the right nutrients, but they also need to monitor their intake of certain minerals, like sodium. High sodium levels put seniors at an increased risk for heart disease. (5) However, a diet that’s too low in sodium can also be risky. One study found that seniors with very low sodium diets saw a decrease in cognitive function. (6)

Sodium shouldn’t be avoided completely, but moderation is key. It’s best to talk to a dietitian to get a better sense of how much sodium a senior should be consuming each day. Nutrition tracking tools will make it easier for you to monitor sodium levels, ensuring that they aren’t too high or too low. 

4. Track Water Consumption

Normally, when someone feels thirsty, they reach for a glass of water. However, it can be difficult for seniors to detect that they’re thirsty in the first place. (7) Furthermore, kidney function declines as you age, which can make it difficult for older bodies to conserve water. (8)

It’s important to make sure that seniors are getting the water they need, even if they don’t feel thirsty. Reusable water bottles are an easy and effective way to track water intake. There are even many water bottles on the market that are specifically designed for seniors with impairments. 

5. Use Nutritional Shakes and Drinks 

Sitting down for a meal isn’t always easy for seniors, especially if they have difficulty chewing or swallowing. Not only are shakes a fast and simple option, but they can help to ensure that the nutritional needs are being met. When a senior doesn’t feel up to eating, you can serve them a meal replacement shake instead. 

With that said, it’s important to choose the right kinds of nutritional drinks. You should avoid products with filler ingredients and instead choose products that use healthy, plant-based ingredients. Kate Farms offers a line of nutritional shakes that don’t contain any artificial ingredients or sweeteners. These shakes are packed with essential vitamins and minerals and are designed to be easy to digest. 

RELATED: Nutrition Myths for Seniors… Debunked!

6. Buy Fortified Foods

Many elderly adults are deficient in specific nutrients, such as B12 (9) and vitamin D. (10) While these nutrients naturally occur in certain foods, fortified foods are an easier way to make sure that seniors are actually getting everything that they need. 

It’s common to see fortified cereals, juices, and yogurt. Milk is often fortified as well. Being deficient in important nutrients can lead to serious health problems. Fortified foods make it easier to prevent these deficiencies. If you’re searching for nutrient-dense foods, fortified foods are a fantastic option!

7. Use Supplements As Needed 

In addition to choosing fortified foods, it may be necessary for seniors to take supplements. While it’s best to get the nutrients your body needs from food, diets won’t always be sufficient. Supplements can provide seniors with the nutrients they aren’t getting from food sources. 

In addition to vitamins B12 and D, many seniors are deficient in calcium (11), vitamin B6 (12), and iron (13). Some supplements can interact with medications, which is why it’s always important to talk to a doctor before introducing a new supplement.

Supplements shouldn’t be your first resource, but they’re an excellent option for seniors that aren’t getting what they need from food sources. 

8. Offer Options During Every Meal 

Even when seniors have dietary restrictions or follow specific diets like plant based vegetarian plans, they don’t want to eat the same things over and over. They want to have options and the freedom to choose foods that they genuinely enjoy. That’s why you should try to offer at least two choices during each meal. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to prepare two meals every time you sit down to eat. If you keep nutritional shakes on hand, you’ll always have a backup option available. You should also prepare meals that include a variety of foods. If there’s a rainbow on your plate, that’s a good thing!

9. Keep Healthy Snacks On Hand 

Since many elderly adults have a reduced appetite, they may not always be able to eat a full meal. Keeping healthy, nutrient-packed snacks on hand is a fantastic way for seniors to get extra vitamins and minerals even when they’re not feeling hungry. Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, and hard boiled eggs are all excellent options. 

While you shouldn’t hesitate to offer seniors snacks, you should opt for foods without added sugars. Excessive sugar consumption can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease (14), which is why whole foods make the best senior snacks.

10. Try Meal Planning 

Managing the dietary concerns of seniors can feel overwhelming. It can be a struggle to prepare balanced and appealing meals each day, especially if you’re a caregiver. Planning meals in advance can save you time, and it can also make it easier to address dietary restrictions and modifications. 

You can prepare meals ahead of time and freeze them. That way, you’ll always have balanced, nutrient-dense meals that are ready to go, even when you’re pressed for time. Meal planning can save you time, reduce your stress levels, and can help you serve healthy meals to every member of your household. 

RELATED: Nutrition for Bedbound Seniors

By planning ahead, choosing the right foods, and monitoring senior diets closely, you’ll be able to ensure that the older adults in your life can make the most of their golden years. 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3396084/
  2. https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/35/12/2650
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983
  4. https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M14-0611
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4785822/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5334786/
  7. https://jasn.asnjournals.org/content/18/12/3056.full
  8. https://clinicalnutritionespen.com/article/S1751-4991(09)00093-6
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25756278/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4399494/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4337919
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3579689
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4006029/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4113072/

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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