“You are what you eat” is a cliche for good reason -- because it’s true. The food you consume gives your body the building blocks it needs in order to function. Everything, from simply breathing, to far more complex processes like healing from an injury, depends on proper nutrition.
As you age, your nutritional needs begin to change. If you don’t make adjustments, you may be missing critical nutrients in your diet, or you may be leaving the door open for chronic conditions to develop. Here are some of the most common nutrition-related problems in older adults.
Malnutrition in older adults
Even if you have access to food, you may still be at risk for malnutrition, according to the Alliance for Aging Research. They estimate that healthcare costs related to malnutrition in older American adults is more than $51 billion each year, and describe it as “a hidden epidemic.”
Some medications can decrease your appetite, leading to malnutrition. Social isolation, disability, dental problems, and financial barriers are also common obstacles for proper nutrition among older people.
Here are some common signs and symptoms of malnutrition:
- Inability to concentrate
- Feeling cold all the time
- Swelling (fluid accumulation)
- Slow healing
How being overweight or obese affects nutrition
As you age, your caloric needs change, because your metabolism slows. In other words, your body needs fewer calories.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016, more than 30% of American adults between the ages of 50 and 64 were overweight or obese. That’s a staggering number when you consider the health consequences of carrying extra weight.
Your risk of developing a host of chronic conditions is increased if you’re overweight, including:
- Heart disease
- Sleep apnea
- Chronic pain
- Some cancers
Since aging is also a risk factor for many chronic conditions, being overweight as you age means your risk is even higher. Proper nutrition includes making sure you consume an appropriate number of calories to meet your body’s needs.
Positive steps to good nutrition
There are some simple ways to improve nutrition as you age. For example, one simple, crucial step is to make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. Your sense of thirst diminishes with age, so don’t count on that to know when you need water.
Spend some time planning your meals. Talk to Dr. Spiegel about your nutritional needs and take the time each week to plan meals that will meet those needs.
Make your food aesthetically pleasing. It’s so much more appealing to sit down to a plate filled with bright, healthy foods. Consuming a variety of vegetables adds fiber, nutrients -- and color -- to your meals.
Add flavor using herbs and spices. Your sense of taste may change as you age, and food might not taste like it did before. By using herbs and spices you can vary the flavors of your foods.
If you live around Rockville, Maryland, and have questions about nutrition, or you’d like to learn more about the impact of nutrition on your health, call the Osteopathic Center for Healing or book your visit online. Dr. Spiegel is happy to discuss your nutritional needs and provide guidance to help you age healthfully.