By Holly Glen Gearhart, Contributing Writer
Ah, Summer! It’s hot outside and we don’t have a lot of energy, and worse yet, we have no appetite.
If we have an appetite at all it is for something small and for many seniors it also has to be inexpensive—but for those of us over the age of 50 the days of grabbing a cheeseburger and calling that a meal no longer cuts it. Nor should it; as we age not only do our taste buds change but our nutritional needs do as well.
A study conducted by The American Academy of Family Physicians found that roughly 4 million seniors in America are not reaching their nutritional goals. Lack of sufficient funds to buy foods needed for healthy meal options certainly tops the list of contributors to malnutrition but other factors are often overlooked. Seniors take more medications that can effect how food tastes and some can actually effect our appetites. Depression and chronic illness are often at fault for making poor meals choices also.
According to an article in the monthly newsletter A Place for Mom, “ As we age, our bodies require fewer calories, yet require more protein, calcium, B vitamins and other nutrients. Even in this health conscious age, many caregivers lack awareness about the specific dietary needs of seniors and how nutrition is a key contributor to the well-being and longevity of the elderly.”
There are a few slight changes in routine or outlook that can help keep malnutrition at bay, however.
Among the Boomer generation, more people over 55 live alone than did in previous generations. Loneliness is an significant factor in appetite loss, whether one is alone due to the loss of a loved one or a because of a choice to live alone. Preparing a nutritious meal for one is a lot of work. This is a good reason to take advantage of community meals offered at senior centers. These gatherings are designed to bolster conversation and reduce isolation by giving seniors a chance to be part of a community.
With aging, many endure physical ailments that limit their ability to stand and prepare a meal. If you have physical pain, you can cook sitting on a tall chair. You may have to give up cooking in a cast iron skillet that you can’t pick up with ease in favor of a lighter stainless steel pot or pan.
Prepare meals ahead of time by portioning food into containers that you can freeze or store in the fridge until needed. That can take the drudgery out of cooking for one and is helpful if the number of days you feel well enough to cook are limited.
If you don’t have enough money to afford more leafy greens (vitamins and minerals and calcium) instead of cheap starchy, fatty foods, then turn to the services available to you such as the Washington State SNAP program.
SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, can help you buy fresh food. And don’t hesitate to access the food bank; that’s what it’s there for. The Sky Valley Food Bank, right across the street from the East County Senior Center, has fresh vegetables grown right on the premises available in the summer months.
You need protein more than ever, but meat may not be the place to get it. In a published report the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found older adults needed to eat more protein to avoid the loss of muscle mass, overall strength, and a reduced immune system.
But many seniors experience the loss of some ability to chew or digest meats. In this case, find other sources of protein; natural peanut butter, hummus and cheese are good options served on bread or crackers. Try nuts and/or cheeses mixed into a fresh spinach salad topped with seeds or grated fresh ginger- ginger in small doses aids with digestion and jazzes up any dull meal.
Fish rich in Omega 3 oil such as salmon, herring or sardines are easy to find and are good, digestible, proteins just as are canned (or fresh) lentil or bean soups.
Creativity matters in stimulating your appetite, just don’t forget to eat healthy meals rich in the vitamins and minerals. For more information on senior nutrition check out Senior Services of Snohomish County Nutrition Program at (425) 347-1229 or toll free at 1-800-824-2183.