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What is nutrition and why is it important for older adults?
Nutrition is about eating a healthy and balanced diet so your body gets the nutrients that it needs. Nutrients are substances in foods that our bodies need so they can function and grow. They include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water.
Good nutrition is important, no matter what your age. It gives you energy and can help you control your weight. It may also help prevent some diseases, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
But as you age, your body and life change, and so does what you need to stay healthy. For example, you may need fewer calories, but you still need to get enough nutrients. Some older adults need more protein.
What can make it harder for me to eat healthy as I age?
Some changes that can happen as you age can make it harder for you to eat healthy. These include changes in your:
- Home life, such as suddenly living alone or having trouble getting around
- Health, which can make it harder for you to cook or feed yourself
- Medicines, which can change how food tastes, make your mouth dry, or take away your appetite
- Income, which means that you may not have as much money for food
- Sense of smell and taste
- Problems chewing or swallowing your food
How can I eat healthy as I age?
To stay healthy as you age, you should:
- Eat foods that give you lots of nutrients without a lot of extra calories, such as
- Avoid empty calories. These are foods with lots of calories but few nutrients, such as chips, candy, baked goods, soda, and alcohol.
- Pick foods that are low in cholesterol and fat. You especially want to try to avoid saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are usually fats that come from animals. Trans fats are processed fats in stick margarine and vegetable shortening. You may find them in some store-bought baked goods and fried foods at some fast-food restaurants.
- Drink enough liquids, so you don't get dehydrated. Some people lose their sense of thirst as they age. And certain medicines might make it even more important to have plenty of fluids.
- Be physically active. If you have started losing your appetite, exercising may help you to feel hungrier.
What can I do if I am having trouble eating healthy?
Sometimes health issues or other problems can make it hard to eat healthy. Here are some tips that might help:
- If you are tired of eating alone, try organizing some potluck meals or cooking with a friend. You can also look into having some meals at a nearby senior center, community center, or religious facility.
- If you are having trouble chewing, see your dentist to check for problems
- If you are having trouble swallowing, try drinking plenty of liquids with your meal. If that does not help, check with your health care provider. A health condition or medicine could be causing the problem.
- If you're having trouble smelling and tasting your food, try adding color and texture to make your food more interesting
- If you aren't eating enough, add some healthy snacks throughout the day to help you get more nutrients and calories
- If an illness is making it harder for you to cook or feed yourself, check with your health care provider. He or she may recommend an occupational therapist, who can help you find ways to make it easier.
NIH: National Institute on Aging
- Healthy Eating as You Age: Know Your Food Groups (National Institute on Aging)
- Overcoming Roadblocks to Healthy Eating (National Institute on Aging)
Diagnosis and Tests
- Prealbumin Blood Test (National Library of Medicine) Also in Spanish
- 5 Top Foods for Eye Health (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)
- Health Tips for Older Adults (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)
- Healthy Lifestyles for Healthy Older Adults (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)
- Nutrition: Unique to Older Adults (AGS Health in Aging Foundation)
- Certain Antioxidants May Lower Dementia Risk (National Institutes of Health)
- Healthy Meal Planning: Tips for Older Adults (National Institute on Aging)
- Healthy Recipes (National Library of Medicine) Also in Spanish
- How Much Should I Eat? Quantity and Quality (National Institute on Aging)
- Live Long in Good Health: Could Calorie Restriction Mimetics Hold the Key? (National Institute on Aging)
- Using the Nutrition Facts Label: For Older Adults (Food and Drug Administration) Also in Spanish
- Vitamins and Minerals for Older Adults (National Institute on Aging)
Health Check Tools
- MyPlate Kitchen (Department of Agriculture)
- MyPlate.gov (Department of Agriculture)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Nutrition Programs for Seniors (National Institutes of Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Nutritional status and its associated factors among elderly people in Ilu...
- Article: The Effects of an Intensive Rehabilitation Program on the Nutritional and...
- Article: Nutritional Disorder Evaluated by the Geriatric Nutritional Risk Index Predicts Death...
- Nutrition for Older Adults -- see more articles
- Definitions of Health Terms: Nutrition (National Library of Medicine)
Find an Expert
- AAAs (Area Agencies on Aging) & Title VI Aging Programs (USAging)
- Find a Nutrition Expert (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)
- Meals on Wheels: Find a Meal (Meals on Wheels Association of America)
- National Institute on Aging Also in Spanish