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Published By Beth Lueders on January 10, 2017

Grandma eats nachos for lunch and ice cream sundaes for dinner. And her doctor approves. If you find this nutrition for seniors hard to swallow, keep reading.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced its first nutrition guidelines in 1894. During World War II, the USDA came out with the “Basic Seven” food groups, which was followed by the “Basic Four” in 1956. Children through the elderly were schooled in eating their daily servings of fruits and vegetables, cereals and breads, meat, and milk. By the early 1990s, the USDA created a food guide pyramid that recommended daily servings of each food group. Today’s MyPlate dietary guide continues to stress wise food choices, but a number of nutritional experts are broadening what meals and snacks are actually beneficial for older adults.

Eating well throughout life is important for energy, strong bones, disease prevention and a host of other stay-fit reasons. Yet by the time many seniors are slowing in their health or are approaching death, helping them enjoy what they eat is more important than getting all the proteins, carbs and fats in balance. So why the decline in appetite and eating as you age?

  • Familiarity of foods. Many elderly are used to doing their own grocery shopping and cooking. If they are restricted from buying favorite foods or using the kitchen, eating in general can lose its appeal.
  • Physical changes. With age, taste buds gradually decrease in number. Sweet and salty sensations are usually the first to fade in adults over age 50. Losing a sense of smell can also affect flavor and trigger a disinterest in foods. Seniors with dental problems often face difficulties with chewing, especially foods with a dense texture like meats and raw produce. The memory loss, confusion and short attention span caused by Alzheimer’s and certain other diseases may also cause an elder to skip meals altogether. Depression and loneliness in older adults are also culprits in decreased appetite.
  • Medications and medical treatment. Some medications and medical treatments including chemotherapy can affect swallowing and make the elderly nauseous and unable to tolerate a regular diet.

As we age, it may be more challenging to eat regularly or take in the daily nutrients that dieticians and nutritionists recommend, so perhaps we should consider loosening dietary restrictions. Instead of following the “proper” combination of foods each day, we may be better off with high-caloric menu items made with butter, whole milk and nut butters. Fruits and veggies conceal well in shakes, soups and breads. Smaller portions throughout the day may work better than three full meals.

Older adults with specific health concerns, such as later-stage heart disease or severe diabetes, may still need to limit high salt and sugar amounts to manage their condition, but joining Grandma in the nachos and ice cream sundaes isn’t that bad of an idea in general.

What are your thoughts about dietary restrictions for seniors?

An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.

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