The quality of the diet of the elderly has declined

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Experts encourage older people to eat more fruits, vegetables and lean meats. Pamela Joe McFarlane/Getty Images
  • Researchers report that the quality of diets of older adults in the United States has declined over the past 2 decades.
  • Some of the reasons include mobility issues, depression, and medications that alter the taste of food.
  • Experts recommend seniors eat enough fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and lean meats.
  • They also recommend exercising to increase appetite, using herbs and spices to enhance flavor, and eating smaller, more frequent meals.

A healthy diet can reduce your risk of chronic disease, improve your quality of life and prolong your life.

However, maintaining a healthy diet can become more difficult as we age.

A new studypublished in the JAMA Network Open, reports that from 2001 to 2018, the quality of diets for older adults in the United States deteriorated.

The researchers examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 10,837 adults aged 65 and over. Their findings included:

  • The proportion of elderly people whose diet is of poor quality has increased from 51% to 61%.
  • The percentage of older adults with intermediate dietary quality decreased from 49% to 39%.
  • The portion with ideal diet quality remained consistently low
  • The American Heart Association healthy diet score decreased by 8 percent.

By comparison, adults over the age of 20 saw an overall improvement in the quality of their diet.

Poor diet is a significant risk factor for chronic disease, disability, and death in the United States. It is therefore crucial to identify opportunities for improving the diet of seniors.

The American Heart Association offers a diet including:

  • a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • fat-free and low-fat dairy products
  • legumes
  • poultry and lean meats
  • oily fish at least twice a week

“The older a person is, the more likely they are to live alone, be widowed or be socially isolated. This makes it more difficult to prepare and buy healthier meals. Additionally, fixed incomes and inflation make it harder to be food secure and more likely to buy less healthy (but cheaper) foods,” Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, senior registered dietitian at the University of California to Los Angeles. Fielding School of Public Health and author of “Recipe for Survival,” Healthline told Healthline.

Other reasons for poor eating habits in the elderly include:

  • Mobility issues can make it harder to get to the store, around the store, or around the kitchen to prepare meals. Quick, easy (and often unhealthy) foods replace nutritious meals.
  • Depression and grief can decrease motivation to prepare and eat meals. Elderly people often deal with dying spouses, siblings and friends.
  • Social isolation can decrease enjoyment and motivation to eat. Seniors who find ways to socialize and have constant companionship have healthier eating habits.
  • Some medications can change the taste of food or reduce appetite. It would be best to speak with your doctor about these side effects.
  • Dental problems can cause problems. Loose teeth and missing teeth can make chewing difficult. Ill-fitting dentures can mean you’re limiting the foods you eat.
  • You may have a diminished sense of taste and smell. Salty, sweet and salty tastes can decrease with age. Many seniors choose to eat more salty and sweet foods to satisfy their cravings for these flavors.

“Another contributing factor is that many older adults are not routinely screened for nutrition and may not even be aware they are at risk, especially if they do not appear overweight. be not quickly or appropriately,” Tina Sadarangani, PhD, RN, assistant professor at New York University’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing, told Healthline.

“No matter your age, good nutrition is key,” Michael Garrico, ASCM, NC, personal trainer and nutritionist, told Healthline. “It gives you energy and can help you manage your weight. However, as your body and your life change as you age, so do the things you need to stay healthy. You might need fewer calories, but you still need to get enough nutrients.

There are many ways older people can improve their diets, according to Sadarangani:

  • Get screened by your healthcare professional to understand your nutritional risk.
  • Get some exercise, even a short walk or chair activities using some of the many free YouTube videos. It will stimulate appetite and improve food intake.
  • Join your local senior center or call a friend. Eating is more fun when done with others, and many senior centers offer free or low-cost nutritionally balanced meals.
  • Ask for help. This may seem like the hardest tip, but there are plenty of resources built into communities that can help seniors with shopping and cooking.
  • Embrace herbs and spices as a healthy way to add flavor to meals.
  • Eat small, frequent meals. Try to establish a healthy routine around food.

Many older people are food insecure. If you have a fixed or limited budget and find it difficult to buy healthy food, contact organizations in your area for food assistance.

You can also apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides low-income individuals and families with financial assistance to purchase food.


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