My grandmother is in her mid-eighties and has been slowly losing weight over the last few years. After her doctor told her to stop losing weight and more importantly, to try and put on a few pounds, my mother asked me for some advice. This same thing happened to my mother-in-law in her late eighties, and interestingly enough, another AHS participant was concerned this past week about this same issue. We tend to hear more about the epidemic of Canadians being overweight, but losing weight as we age is another cause for concern.
Reduction of bone mass and loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength (also called sarcopenia) occurs as we age, some people just lose valuable resources that keep them healthier in their older years. There is a reason why BMI (Body Mass Index – which is a ratio of your body weight as related to your height) allowances increase slightly as we age. For older adults, being slightly overweight (rather than underweight) may help when a fall occurs, or when they face a serious illness or course of treatment like chemotherapy. This doesn’t mean people should eat everything and anything, but for some people (particularly women), we need to encourage their appetite and healthy choices. Especially when they might not feel like cooking and eating, and have simply lost some interest in food. Often people want to reduce the complexity of groceries and cooking, and start to limit the diversity of meals. We’ve called this the “tea and toast” diet. Caloric needs are reduced as we age, but often appetite decreases along with this feeling – people just don’t feel like preparing food and eating.
Allow me to offer some advice for people struggling with some of these issues:
The gastrointestinal tract changes as we age and the intestinal wall loses some strength and elasticity. Digestion and motility slow down and constipation can increase. Continuing to eat lots of fruits and vegetables for a high fibre content will assist with this issue.
Thirst sensations are diminished and dehydration is a concern as people don’t tend to drink enough water (which also increases the risk of constipation). Drinking high-quality juice or eating high-water-content fruits can help. Also, keeping a water bottle handy and noting your consumption throughout the day might encourage people to drink more. But tea, especially black and green tea can increase fluid intake.
Oatmeal in the morning with dried fruit and yogurt are a good way to kick-start the day.
Bigger batch soups and stews that are portioned-out and frozen may help.
Nuts and seeds and dips like hummus and guacamole are great snacks. Peanut butter and other nut butters on crackers are also healthy options.
Pay attention to nutrient density and choose food to fuel you with good macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Eliminate empty calorie snacks.
And finally, one of the most important aspects of healthy nutrition is social connection and eating with others. Don’t forget to include and share meals together, everyone will benefit from a little visiting around a great dinner.