Mountaintop Medicine: Nutrition Notes — Nutrition for the Golden Years

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Welcome back to another edition of Mountaintop Medicine: Nutrition Notes! This week I want discuss the elderly, and more specifically- the importance of adequate nutrition for those who are 65 years and older.

Leah Gardner, EPH Registered Dietitian

How does nutrition affect us as we age?

As we age, our bodies go through physiological changes that affect our appetite, body weight and composition, taste, smell, and hormone levels. Especially when combined with chronic diseases, medication use, chewing and swallowing issues, and a lack of independence, nutrition becomes even more important and an area of concern. Many studies have proven that good nutrition and exercise can make a dramatic difference in the quality of life for older adults.

Chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, diabetes, and dementia can affect appetite, energy needs, and weight. Being on multiple medications can interact with nutrients or produce side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and sensory changes that affect smell and taste. Oral and dental problems can affect chewing or swallowing, causing nutritional deficiencies from the inability to eat certain foods.

It is important to maintain a healthy weight and eat an abundance of nutrient-dense foods to prevent serious nutrient gaps. Stay away from fad diets and rapid weight loss that can lead to a loss of lean body mass- exactly the opposite of what older people need for good health.

Be sure that you are getting enough quality proteins in your diet. Protein is essential for weight maintenance, preserving muscle mass, fighting infections, and recovering from accidents and injuries. Quality proteins include lean meats like chicken, turkey, fish and seafood, as well as eggs, milk, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, beans, legumes, nuts and nut butters.

Calcium and vitamin D are two nutrients that are especially important for older adults. They help us keep our bones strong and healthy. Those who don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D are more likely to suffer from osteopenia and osteoporosis, which cause weak bones and increase the risk for fractures.

Healthy Eating Tips

  • Eat plenty of nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, quality proteins, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Avoid fried foods. Choose broiled, boiled, or grilled options instead.
  • Limit foods with added sugars such as sodas, candy, and desserts.
  • Drink vitamin D-fortified milk and milk products to help keep your bones strong.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Aim for at least 2-3 liters of water every day to keep from getting dehydrated.
  • If you are having chewing or swallowing issues, drink plenty of fluids with meals and sit upright at a 90-degree angle to help prevent choking.
  • If you’re having trouble smelling and tasting your food, try adding color and texture to make your food more interesting.
  • If you have a poor appetite, try eating 5-6 small meals throughout the day rather than eating 3 larger meals.
  • Try organizing some potluck dinners with friends and family- this is a great way to stay social and enjoy eating.

Ask your health care provider about whether or how you can safely become active or increase your physical activity. Regular exercise in combination with adequate nutrition is important for preventing chronic health problems, and maintaining strong bones and muscles so that you can keep doing day to day activities without becoming dependent on others. Exercise also helps prevent falls and injuries from falls, improves sleep, reduces fatigue, maintains cognitive function, and has lasting mental health benefits such as decreased anxiety and depression.

If you have any questions or if there are any nutrition-related topics that you would like me to discuss here on Nutrition Notes, please reach out at