A question from an elderly mother
Why do I still need to eat healthy? When you have an elderly parent, encouraging healthy eating may seem a bit condescending. After all, she is over 85 years old, and must have been doing something right all this time? Why shouldn’t she just eat what she wants, or skip a meal when not feeling hungry?
In fact, elderly seniors need more nutrients at a time that they need less calories. So, every bite counts. Proteins are important to maintain lean muscles to keep your strength, balance, and ability to walk. Losing lean muscle mass increases risk for a fall.
The current recommendation for people over 51 years old is 2 servings of meat or meat alternatives per day for women, and 3 for men. One serving size of meat is 75 grams, 2 eggs, 2 table spoons of peanut butter or ¼ cup of nuts.
Adding protein is easy. Try:
- Sprinkle nuts in your cereal, or snack on nuts when feeling peckish in between meals
- Adding a slice of cheese to your sandwich
- Drink milk or a soy or nut based milk alternative with a meal instead of water
- Spread peanut butter on half a banana, or almond butter with sliced apple.
So how much protein does a senior need?
The need of both protein and energy is highly individual and based on current health status. Chronic disease, a recent hospital stay, medications, and activity level are all factors to be assessed for personal nutrition needs. In addition, protein is harder to digest and absorb when older. So even when you get the suggested servings, you still may not be absorbing enough protein.
Now, I am not saying you can’t enjoy cookies or ice cream. What I am saying is a well-nourished senior enjoys a higher sense of well-being, is better equipped to maintain independence, and medication works better.
If you notice that walking is becoming more difficult, gaining balance after standing up or moving about, increasing difficulties preparing daily healthy meals, trouble chewing and swallowing meats; it may not be just the normal process of aging. It is time for a nutrition check up by a qualified registered dietitian.
Jenneke van Hemert a registered dietitian who specializes in meal preparation for people with dementia, or swallowing or chewing difficulty, and chronic disease management. Meal delivery service is available. If you like to find out more about this topic or her services, please visit www.therapeuticmeals.com
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