5 Myths About Nutrition for Seniors that You Probably Still Believe
Get the lowdown on low-sodium diets, carbs and protein, supplemental shakes and more.
Even though most of us know that nutrition is a crucial part of maintaining good health as we age, many seniors in Canada still struggle to get all the nutrients that they need to be healthy. According to Statistics Canada, 34 percent of Canadians over 65 are not getting the nutrition they need (seriously!), and that number soars even higher for women and people living on their own.
The thing is, aging in place—a.k.a. staying in a cozy, familiar house into our 70s, 80s and beyond—is an integral part of a happy life for many seniors. But they may still have trouble with healthy meal prep because of health issues, struggles with mobility or even medication side effects.
Another possible factor? Misinformation! There are many commonly believed “facts” about senior nutrition that simply aren’t true and require much-needed clarity. Here are five of the top myths, debunked by Andrea Olynyk, consulting Registered Dietician for Heart to Home Meals and expert in senior nutrition.
Myth #1: All seniors should eat a low-sodium diet.
Sure, seniors who are at risk for high blood pressure and some other medical conditions may do well to watch their sodium intake. But for those without pre-conditions, cutting out sodium can make food seem bland and—frankly—unappetizing. Olynyk says that consuming a variety of nutritious foods (even if they’re seasoned with a bit of salt) is a much better alternative to pushing meals aside and risking malnutrition. Plus, sodium is important for fluid and electrolyte balance in our bodies and helps to regulate heart and kidney function.
Myth #2: Seniors need less protein than when they were younger.
The opposite is actually true! While the current recommended daily allowance of protein for adults is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, many Registered Dieticians like Olynyk actually recommend 1.0-1.2g/kg for healthy seniors. For seniors recovering from surgery or illness, or dealing with inflammatory conditions like pressure ulcers, COPD or heart failure, 1.2-1.5 g/kg may be more appropriate. Meat and poultry, eggs, fish, low-fat dairy, tofu and beans are all good sources of protein.
Myth #3: All seniors with a BMI over 25 should have a restricted-calorie diet.
BMI: You’ve probably heard of it. Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a ratio of weight to height, is one measurement that can help to predict a person’s risk for future health issues. For younger adults, the healthy BMI range is 18.5 to 24.9 (though someone with large bones or a lot of muscle could still land above this range and be perfectly healthy). For seniors, the healthy BMI range increases to 22 to 29.9.
Regardless of a senior’s BMI, they should be assessed by a Registered Dietitian before they try to cut calories. Even if a senior appears overweight, losing weight through calorie restriction might not be the answer.
Myth #4: Seniors with Type 2 Diabetes should limit their carb intake.
Even a senior who needs to manage their blood sugar levels requires carbohydrates (one of the three primary macronutrients alongside protein and fat) for energy. Plus, carbs are delicious, and we all need a bit of deliciousness in our lives. While there’s no recommended daily allowance for carbohydrates in seniors with Type 2 Diabetes, Olynyk suggests consuming up to 200 grams of complex carbohydrates spread throughout the day. Examples of healthy foods that are rich in complex carbs include:
- brown rice
- whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas
Myth #5: Supplemental shakes and puddings are a great food alternative for seniors.
Many adult children turn to store-bought shakes and puddings to replace their parent’s meals, but Olynyk says a better solution is to address the reason the individual doesn’t feel like eating. Is a change in medication affecting appetite? Has weight loss made dentures loose and uncomfortable? A Registered Dietician or family doctor can help you get to the root of the issue.
Interested in discovering how to make mealtimes both easier and more enjoyable? Learn more on these nutrition myths, plus 10 more myths you should be aware of. Download 15 Senior Nutrition Myths—Debunked: Your no-nonsense guide to healthier eating for free from Heart to Home Meals for seniors.