When it comes to nutrition, there are plenty of myths about what’s healthy and what isn’t. Part of that is due to our changing understanding of nutrition and health. Advice doctors commonly gave 25 years ago we may now know to be wrong. After all, doctors used to do commercials for cigarettes and give amphetamines to patients looking to lose weight, two things that would never happen today.
In this post, we look at some common myths about seniors and their nutrition needs and then explain the facts to help you make healthy choices.
MYTH: Seniors Need Fewer Nutrients because Their Metabolism Is Slower
This may be the most common myth, because it’s partially true. Your metabolism does slow with age, meaning your body needs fewer calories. However, that does not mean it also needs fewer nutrients. In fact, since you need fewer calories, you have to be even more careful that the calories you do consume have all the nutrients you need. And, your changing body usually requires MORE nutrients, particularly calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.
MYTH: It’s Okay to Skip Meals Once You Turn 60
Seniors often experience a loss of appetite, which causes many to skip meals. This is bad for a number of reasons, the first being that skipping meals typically causes a dip in blood sugar. Also, when you do eat, you’re more likely to overeat, which may then cause blood sugar to spike. Skipping meals may also reduce appetite even further, compounding the original problem.
Since appetite is typically best in the morning, doctors recommend starting your day with a healthy breakfast and then eating during regular mealtimes.
MYTH: You Can Eat Anything You Want as Long as You’re Thin
This myth persists throughout our lives because many people associate body size with health. However, it is possible to be thin your whole life and still be unhealthy if you don’t eat a nutritious, healthy diet. After all, a diet full of saturated fats clogs your arteries no matter how much you weigh.
MYTH: Your Body Tells You when You Need Water
By the time you feel thirsty, you are likely already on the way to dehydration, a dangerous condition for anyone but especially seniors. It may cause a drop in blood pressure, confusion, balance issues, and more. And, some medications may cause dehydration or a lack of thirst. Try to drink a glass of water every hour or two.
MYTH: You Can Get All of Your Nutrition from Supplements
There are many issues with this myth. First, no, you can’t. There are some nutrients that you can only get from diet (they’re called supplements for a reason). Second, some supplements counteract other supplements. Third, some vitamins are difficult for the body to absorb, particularly in pill form. Vitamin B12, for example, is best taken via injection. Barring that, it’s best in a form that dissolves in your mouth (or sublingually). Finally, not all supplements are created equal. Some are little more than the sugar water sold by snake oil salesmen once upon a time. Ask your doctor or dietician for recommendations.
MYTH: It’s Smart to Divide Meals in Half
This is particularly popular with seniors who use a meal delivery service and is usually employed as a cost-cutting device. While understandable, it’s a practice you should avoid. First, these meals are usually balanced to ensure you get the exact nutrients you need. Cutting them in half means you only get half of the nutrients and calories your body requires. Second, many seniors experience a reduced sense of smell, which may make it more difficult to recognize when leftovers have spoiled. Eating spoiled food may cause food poisoning.
If you cook for yourself and prefer to make larger meals that you can portion into two or more servings, take care to eat leftovers within 24 hours to reduce the likelihood of spoilage.
MYTH: When You’re Older, It’s Okay to Get Fat
Even though thin doesn’t necessarily mean healthy, fat nearly always means you’re more likely to develop a chronic condition. Even being slightly overweight raises your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and more. The solution is to simply not eat more calories than your body needs.
Nutrition Basics for Seniors
It’s true that our nutritional needs change as we age; they change throughout our lives. If you have specific questions about diet, it’s best to talk to your doctor. He or she understands your health, including chronic conditions and medications you take, and is best able to advise you on the proper diet for your unique needs.
That said, the following is a good start toward a healthful diet:
- Eat at least three servings of colorful vegetables each day.
- Eat at least two servings of fruit each day.
- Eat real food and eliminate as much processed food as possible.
- Eat whole grains instead of processed, such as white bread, white rice, and white flour.
- Take in at least 1,200 mg of calcium each day.
These five simple steps put you on the road to better nutrition and better health.