As we age, our nutritional needs shift slowly with the changes in our bodies. Our senses weaken, metabolisms decline, digestion slows and we lose body mass. It’s important to note these normal changes and understand what’s happening inside of you. With awareness and observation, you’ll be equipped to take the best care of yourself and give your body what it’s craving.
Sensory changes often affect older adults’ nutritional intake by taking out the pleasure and ease of preparing and eating meals. Weakened vision can lead to a fear of cooking with sharp utensils or going to the store to buy groceries. The senses of smell and taste also weaken as we age, affecting our food preferences and even the desire to eat. There are many creative ways to combat this change. Adding extra flavor to foods with spices and cooking with fresh, in-season ingredients allows for better tasting meals. Add variety to dishes by cooking with as many colors as you can (which helps you avoid preparing too many starch-based meals). Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day also helps to stimulate your appetite.
When eating isn’t a problem, we need to pay attention to what we put into our bodies. As lean body mass (muscle and bone) decreases, metabolism begins to decline. This loss of our muscles’ important protein tissue is accompanied by a natural increase in body fat, challenging us to meet the same nutrient needs as our younger selves while consuming fewer calories. Eating foods lower in fat, as well as eating complex (rather than refined) carbs, can help achieve this goal.
Often, illnesses or medications cause nutrient deficiencies that go unnoticed, so building a nutrient-rich diet and eating a variety of foods allows you to tap into the full spectrum of nutrients. Rather than falling into the routine of cooking the same meals over and over, try switching up protein sources (fish instead of chicken), adding variety to the texture of your meal (changing grains is an easy way to do this) or preparing your food differently (grilled, baked or sautéed). By concentrating on adding variety to your meals, you’ll always discover new ways to get the nutrients your body needs while avoiding becoming bored or complacent.
Even when we’re healthy, our bodies are in a state of gradual change. Keeping these changes in mind and adjusting your diet accordingly can help you absorb the vital nutrients you need to stay healthy. Find creative ways to prepare meals, and don’t be afraid to try new things! While our bodies are constantly changing, we can continue to make healthy changes for the better.