As we get older, two things tend to happen: our metabolism slows down and therefore we need fewer calories. At the same time, our need for protein and certain vitamins and minerals increases. This can lead to higher risk of nutritional deficiencies in older adults.
What’s the key to supporting an overall healthy and active lifestyle as we age? Make every bite and sip count.
Loss of Appetite Affects Nutrient Intake
There are many reasons why we may not get enough of the nutrients we need. Loss of appetite is one reason, with 15-30 percent of older adults reporting significant declines in appetite. When we aren’t eating as much, it’s harder to get enough of all of the essential vitamins and minerals we need.
But what can cause lack of appetite as we get older? Here are two reasons:
- Our senses become less sharp, especially taste and smell. How much we enjoy a food depends a lot on how it tastes, of course! Smell is closely tied to taste. You’ve probably experienced this when you have a stuffy nose and can’t really taste the foods you’re eating. When both taste and smell are dampened, it can make eating food less enjoyable.
- Eating can become painful. Dental issues, poor dental health, dry mouth or sores from medications can make eating unpleasant. If that happens, choosing nutrient-rich beverages can help.
Medications May Affect Nutrient Absorption
Another reason behind nutrient gaps can be what we find in our medicine cabinet. Certain medications can affect vitamin and mineral absorption, meaning you might be getting those nutrients from the diet, but they aren’t being absorbed as well by the body. Medicines can also affect our appetite or dull our senses of taste and smell.
Vitamins and Minerals to Focus On
To help minimize your risk of nutritional deficiencies, make sure you’re getting enough of these of vitamins and minerals commonly lacking in the diet of older adults:
- Vitamin B12: All of the B vitamins help make sure the cells of our body are working properly, and vitamin B12 has an additional role of helping make cell DNA. Older adults tend to have lower levels of vitamin B12 in their bodies because we lose the ability to effectively absorb the nutrient as we age. Sometimes vitamin supplements are necessary, but getting it from food sources like beef, poultry, fish and dairy should be part of your regular eating plan.
- Calcium: This mineral is essential to for bone health. Dairy foods like milk and yogurt are great sources of calcium, but you can also get this mineral from fortified foods and beverages.
- Vitamin D: Another bone-building nutrient, vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. It also supports a healthy immune system, among other roles in the body. A whopping 90 percent of Americans are not getting enough vitamin D, so be sure to choose rich food sources like seafood, eggs, milk and fortified foods and drinks.
- Vitamin A: This nutrient helps support normal vision. Milk and eggs are great sources, as are orange-colored fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes and mangos.
- Magnesium: This multipurpose mineral plays a role in heart health, bone health and muscle health. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are good sources.
- Vitamin E: The antioxidant vitamin E helps rid the body of free radicals that can otherwise lead to cell damage. Good food sources include nuts and some vegetable oils.
- Potassium: This mineral supports heart health and contributes to the maintenance of normal blood pressure already within a normal range. Fruits, vegetables, beans and milk are among the foods that provide potassium in the diet.
- Choline: The liver is the largest organ in our body with numerous vital functions, and choline is important for liver health. Choline tends to be found in animal products like eggs, beef, poultry, and milk and certain vegetables, like broccoli.
How to Help Fill Nutrient Gaps
Now that you know about some of the common shortfall nutrients, how do you go about getting them? A key is to have variety in your diet. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meats, fish, dairy and legumes. Eat at regular intervals during the day, and don’t skip meals. Also choose nutrient-packed snacks and make every bite and sip count.
If eating enough throughout the day is difficult, or getting the nutrition you need through regular foods, try having nutrient-packed beverages that provide supplemental protein, vitamins and minerals to help you get the nutrition you need in a convenient way.