March is National Nutrition Month – a great time for all of us to re-focus on our eating habits and see what we’re doing right and what areas of our life could use improvement, nutritionally speaking.
One thing that far too many people don’t understand is that as we age, our nutritional needs change, as well. Not only is this true, but the sad reality is that there are a number of very dangerous myths that exist regarding senior nutrition. By falling victim to these myths, aging individuals actually can fall victim to very serious health conditions, resulting in illness, injury, and detrimental changes to their quality of life.
Myth #1: Malnutrition Isn’t a Concern for those Who Eat Regular Meals
This myth applies not only to seniors, but to the general population, as well. Far too many Americans assume that since the U.S. is a comparatively wealthy nation, problems like malnutrition do not affect us like they do developing nations.
Unfortunately, malnutrition is a very real problem in the U.S., especially among seniors. In fact, a recent study revealed that in 2012, 3.7 million seniors in the U.S. were malnourished.
There are a number of reasons for this, the most prominent among them being income. Many seniors live on a fixed income, and when money is tight, fresh, nutritious foods are some of the first to go. Additionally, seniors who experience memory loss and other problems may not have the short-term memory needed to properly manage and track their nutritional needs and nutrient intake.
Myth #2: Seniors Can Follow the Same Nutritional Guidelines as Everyone Else
There are numerous nutritional guidelines available to help individuals eat the right foods in the right amounts and meet their nutritional needs. However, despite the way they are promoted, these guidelines are actually quite different for people in differing stages of life.
Specifically, these one-size-fits-all guidelines fail seniors in a few significant ways. Primarily, they do not account for the changing nutritional needs of older individuals. As we age, our bodies need more calcium and a greater amount of certain vitamins and minerals, and these specifics are not relayed in most nutritional guidelines. Additionally, these nutritional guidelines do not take into account common health conditions that are common among older individuals. In fact, rigidly following these guidelines could worsen certain conditions, like heart disease and diabetes.
Myth #3: Seniors Need Fewer Nutrients because They Have Slower Metabolisms
While it is true that our metabolisms slow as we age, this does not mean that we need fewer nutrients. We should look to limit certain metrics, like overall caloric intake and the amount of fat we consume, but in terms of nutrients, the truth is that seniors will likely need more nutrients in their older years, as the ability to absorb nutrients from food decreases in older age.
Myth #4: Loss of Appetite is Normal Among Seniors
Again, while our metabolisms will slow down as we age, this does not mean that seniors should ever lose their appetites altogether. In fact, a complete loss of appetite is often an indicator of a more serious medical condition. As such, it’s important for older individuals to monitor their weight and to pay attention to their appetite in order to identify any problems before they have a chance to do too much harm.
Myth #5: Assisted Living Facilities Don’t Have Good Food
People tend to think that any institution that offers prepared food to a wide number of people is likely to only offer food that tastes bad and is unappealing. However, this could not be further from the truth in modern assisted living communities.
In fact, many communities today offer residents a wide variety of dining options to meet their changing needs and preferences. For example, communities might have a traditional cafeteria style option along side a formal dining room and a smaller, a la carte bistro or sandwich shop so that residents can find fresh, healthy food in whatever form they desire, all while having the ability to mix and match their options day to day, week to week. When visiting potential communities for you or a loved one, make sure to check out all available dining areas to get an idea of the nutritional options available at that location.