Separating fact from fiction can be difficult for seniors who are looking for trustworthy information about nutrition. The fact is, most conventional dietary advice is geared toward middle-aged folks. But recent research has dug deeply into the nutritional needs of seniors and the findings have dispelled many common myths about nutrition and aging.
Here's a look at some of the more common senior nutrition myths:
- Older People Lose Their Appetite
Metabolic changes coupled with decreased energy output mean seniors generally need less food than younger adults. However, that doesn’t mean seniors have less of an appetite; in fact, a loss of appetite could signal some serious health problems. There are other reasons why it may appear that a senior has lost his or her appetite - such as a decreased sense of taste or dental issues. That's why it's important for seniors to weigh themselves on a regular basis and monitor any sudden weight loss.
- Seniors Need Fewer Nutrients Because Their Metabolism Slows Down
It’s true that seniors generally need fewer calories than younger people. At the same time, older adults need more of certain nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D and B12. As people age, their ability to absorb these vitamins and minerals decreases, so they need to take in more from food.
- By 65, it's Too Late to Follow a Healthy Lifestyle
There's never an age when it's too late to make healthy changes
to your diet or lifestyle. For example, you can delay the onset of type 2 diabetes by eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and by becoming more physically active. Studies have even shown that a person who makes lifestyle changes after suffering a heart attack are at less risk of suffering another attack. Indeed, one of the more dangerous senior nutrition myths is the notion that there's no benefit to changing your lifestyle past a certain age.
- If You're Not Overweight You Can Eat What You Want
Being overweight clearly increases the risks of chronic illnesses, but a poor diet can increase your risk of these illnesses even if you're at a healthy weight. Following a healthy nutritional plan is important regardless of your weight. Even seniors who are trying to gain weight should do so through a balanced diet, rather than filling themselves with foods that are high in fat, sugar, or salt, and low in nutrients.
- Eating Something Is Better Than Nothing
Another common misconception about senior nutrition is the notion that it's better to give an older person only the foods they enjoy to encourage eating. But that could mean overindulging in fast food, easy-to-prepare frozen dinners and processed snacks that are loaded with sodium and unhealthy fats. Eating too much of these foods can lead to serious health issues, vitamin deficiencies, as well as excessive weight gain or loss.
- It's OK to Skip a Meal if You're Not Hungry
There are several reasons why it's a bad idea to skip meals. First, skipping meals may lead to excessive consumption of high-calorie, nutrient-poor snacks between meals. Forgoing meals can also lead to unhealthy fluctuations in blood sugar levels - which can fall too low when you don't eat, and then spike to hazardous levels when you eat a big meal. Moreover, skipping meals can suppress appetite, leading to unhealthy weight loss and other health issues. Nutritional experts advise eating a big breakfast while making sure to eat something at every other mealtime.
- Senior Communities Have Bad Food
One of the common senior nutrition myths is the stereotype that senior living communities
There may have been some truth to it in the days before assisted living communities weren't available and nursing homes were highly institutionalized. Today, it’s not uncommon for assisted living communities to serve meals that could actually fall under the category of luxury dining and that provide all of the necessary nutritional benefits. If you're in the process of selecting a senior community for yourself or a loved one, it's a good idea to try out at least one meal at each community you tour.
- Dividing Meals In Half is a Smart Move
Leftovers can make cooking easier and help keep costs down, especially if you're on a tight budget, but there are potential dangers to relying on leftovers, too. For example, meals delivered to an older person's home are usually prepared to provide balanced nutrition. Dividing a meal in half can mean you'll fall short on important nutrients. Moreover, storing leftovers for more than a day increases the risk of the food going bad. For an older person whose sense of smell has declined as they've aged, it can become harder to tell when food has spoiled, which raises the likelihood of food poisoning.