A few years ago I wrote a blog post about my grandmother (she’s in her late-eighties) and that she had slowly lost weight over the years. I’ve watched several people in my life lose valuable resources off their frame and start to look small and frail. 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 collect birthdays. 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 or vegetables can help. (Did you know that celery and cucumber are 95% water, and are filled with fibre and vitamins?) 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, 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.