7 Senior Diet Myths

By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor.

The varied health concerns of seniors can make it difficult for caregivers to know how to manage their elderly loved one’s diet.

Is it normal for a senior to lose their appetite or weight for no obvious reason? What combination of vitamins and minerals does a senior really need? Are supplements safe?

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Ruth Frechman, M.A., a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, debunks some common myths about senior nutrition and offers advice for caregivers:

1. “A senior can eat whatever they want.” Frechman feels that this misconception tops the list as one of the most common senior nutrition myths. “Proper nutrition is important at any age—how you eat affects how you age,” she says. The key for seniors, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is to look for foods that are low in calories, but high in nutrients. This includes: fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean sources of protein (fish, poultry beans, nuts)

2. “A senior’s nutritional needs don’t change when they get older.” Following this line of thought is a big mistake, according to Frechman. There are a few important tweaks older adults should make to their daily diets. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises seniors to cut back on their daily sodium intake, consume a higher volume of whole grains, increase their daily potassium intake, and eat foods fortified with vitamins D and B12.

3. “Dietary supplement pills are a safe way to make sure that a senior is getting all of their vitamins and minerals.” Grocery stores often devote several shelves to vitamin and mineral supplements, but caregivers should be careful when considering giving these pills to their elderly loved ones. Seniors who eat a balanced diet should be able to get all of their nutritional needs met from the food they eat. Using supplement pills to make up for a deficit in an elderly person’s diet may cause adverse reactions with prescription medications or cause them to overdose on a particular vitamin or mineral.

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Taking a Bite Out of Senior Diet Myths originally appeared on AgingCare.com.

4. “Eating out all the time is fine, as long as we don’t get the same thing every day.” Caregivers (and seniors who live alone) may find it difficult to find the time and energy to cook meals. This may cause them to turn to dinner options that require less effort and time to prepare, such as restaurant take-out or pre-packaged frozen meals. But, according to Frechman, these seemingly handy short-cuts come with a price: high amounts of fat and sodium. This can be particularly dangerous for seniors with heart problems or high blood pressure.

5. “If a senior doesn’t feel like eating a whole meal, a supplement shake is a fine substitute.” Meal replacement and supplement shakes are not suitable alternatives to a balanced meal. When used too frequently, these shakes may cause a host of health problems, including: malnourishment, and diarrhea. A good rule of thumb to follow when it comes to these kinds of drinks is that they should be used periodically as a snack, not a substitute.

6. “It’s normal to lose your appetite as you get older—I shouldn’t try to get my loved one to eat if they’re not hungry.” An older person may lose their appetite for a variety of reasons, none of which should be ignored or brushed off as a symptom of aging. Medication side effects, problems with chewing and digestion, loneliness, depression, and a reduction in the ability to taste and smell are all things that can contribute to a senior’s reluctance to eat. Frechman says a lagging appetite can cause a senior to become malnourished. She advises caregivers to entice seniors to eat by making the meal look as appealing as possible; using fancy silverware, lighting candles, and arranging the food in a pleasant manner. It may also be helpful if the senior has an eating companion. Try to schedule in some time to sit down and eat with your elderly loved one when you can.

7. “My loved one doesn’t have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, so they don’t need to see a nutritionist about their diet.” Frechman feels that all seniors could benefit from consulting with a professional about their diet. She says that there is a great deal of conflicting and incorrect nutrition information out there, so it can be helpful to get advice from a knowledgeable source. Medicare Part B only covers dietary consultations if a senior has diabetes or renal disease. Some Medicare Part C Advantage programs will pay for a person to see a nutritionist, if their doctor deems it, “medically necessary.” A senior’s primary care doctor may also be a good source of information on proper diets for the elderly.

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Taking a Bite Out of Senior Diet Myths originally appeared on AgingCare.com.



Brian M.
Past Member 3 years ago

Meal replacement shakes are a healthy alternative for mature adults seeking either to lose weight or to gain muscle. However, healthy snacks and at least one solid meal a day are a must.

Dale Overall

Interesting. And yes, people who are younger than what is considered to be senior can comment on the article, is there a problem with that?

My Dad is 91 and he eats a balanced diet. Some seniors are unable to due to cost and a variety of other factors.

People who chose to eat meat should be free do do so without constantly being told that it is bad for health, or unnatural as vegans like to believe. (Some veggies like sweet potatoes have to be cooked but that is not unnatural either). Portion size is key and limiting meat to a serving of a size of a deck of cards will prevent problems in future as servings are often too big in some countries.

Lika S.
Lika P4 years ago

btw... My great grandparents were farmers. They had cattle, chickens, vegetables, fruit, just about everything. My great grandma lived to be almost 93 years old, and while she was a hard working farmer, she ate eggs with bacon quite often. Almost daily.

My grandma, who is finally in hospice, is 99, and a half. She ate chocolate for dessert regularly, and during her adult life, had a cocktail daily. It's more than just eating properly, it's living well too.

Bonnie M.
Bonnie M5 years ago

Well, if we go through life with healthy lifestyle- diet and nutrition included, monitoring health habits / nutrition and diet in old age should not be a big deal. Yes, eating out or take out solves the issue of cooking- = only if one had this kind of lifestyle in their younger years.
Most of today's seniors are well informed and really more health conscious.For some, it is a matter of necessity-to be able to stay away from a nursing home as one gets older.

Lika S.
Lika P5 years ago

I take care of older citizens for a living. It's good info, but not quite enough. You get seniors who don't want to eat, because nothing tastes good to them. When you find things that work, capitalize on it. Making it a candlelight dinner isn't going to help much if they're not interested in the food it's self. Reinvent the food to make it interesting again.

Stephanie Hungerford

good info. But I can say I have had to live off of nutritional shakes for over a month because that is the only thing I could hold down long. If they refuse to eat a balanced shake is better than nothing. But the elderly person should be taken to a doctor if it happens frequently or is the only thing they are eating for more than a day or 2. Also take activity in to consideration when looking at diet. If do to stroke or other mobility impairing issue exist then they may not be burning enough calories to need a whole meal to be full.

Vlasta M.
Vlasta M5 years ago

Dr. Dean Ornish's studies in California had demonstrated that one can REVERT heart disease by proper diet, exercise and meditation, which can actually de-clog arteries and improve heart action. Google Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. McDougal for receepees and advice on how to revert heart disease and improve life.

Vlasta M.
Vlasta M5 years ago

The longevity studies show that there are other factors than nutrition that affect the long and healthy lives, such as happiness and balance. The oldest person was a French lady who lived to be 121 years,,,she ate chocolate and meat in moderation. Eating less is also good, since it was demonstrated in animals that the animals who eat less live longer and healthier lives. Since people are not that different from animals we may apply this to us too ;-)!

Vlasta M.
Vlasta M5 years ago

Doctors are NOT a good source of knowledge of proper nutrition since nutrition is not taught to any extent in medical schools, and especially not in drugs and procedures oriented medical care in America.

Diet rich in vegetables and whole grains and beans is superior to most other diets, providing vitamins, healthy protein and fiber which is not only good for seniors but fore EVERYBODY. China study done before Chinese adopted Western diet and now have epidemics of diabetes, clearly demonstrated that people who consume more animal products (including dairy) suffer from more degenerative diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and all others. Nutritional studies also demonstrate that taken synthetic vitamins can not replace getting those vitamins in vegetables, grains and legumes.

Any advice to take vitamins and other supplements needs to be considered with a grain of salt. Balanced diet rich in vegetables (preferably organically and locally grown), grains and legumes with occasional feast of chicken and cheese may be the best way to go. Chocolate is also a good stuff to keep high moods.

Fred Velde
Fred Velde5 years ago

Um...the title of the article refers to ten myths and yet there are only seven. Lost the other three did we?