It may come as a surprise to someone that a serious lack of nutrition may accompany older age and retirement. Same person, same habits — so how can that be?
Registered dietitian Kelly Devine Rickert explains that older adults can face new challenges when it comes to getting the nutrition they need. A health coach for employees in Franciscan Alliance’s WELLCARE program, Devine Rickert says more than one factor can interfere with seniors getting enough nutrients.
"It's hard to break habits,” she says. “If they've been eating white bread and are 70 years old, are they going to try whole grains? Will they try new, healthy foods? And if they haven't eaten breakfast for 65 years, they may think, 'Why start now?'"
And retirement means a lower income for many, so those seniors may stretch their food dollars by not buying many fresh foods, opting for cheaper canned goods instead, Devine Rickert says. “Fresh foods have the highest antioxidants, so I tell seniors to have a smoothie to help boost the intake of essential vitamins and minerals.”
But can’t a good daily multivitamin take care of all that? No, says Devine Rickert. “It's better to get nutrients from natural sources instead of just taking vitamins.”
She says seniors who’ve cooked meals all their lives may enjoy going out to eat, but, “If they order a sandwich, it could have 1,000 to 2,000 grams of sodium," and that can be an issue for people with high blood pressure or heart disease, she says. The Food and Drug Administration’s recommended daily allowance for healthy adults is 2,300 mg (lower for people with certain health problems). Canned foods have added sodium, as well.
Misconceptions can also get in the way of healthy eating. Devine Rickert says she sees a lot of older people with Type II diabetes who resign themselves to having high blood sugar, leaving them tired and not wanting to exercise. But lowering blood sugar “can be huge, adding good-quality years to their lives. It's small things that help, like not eating sweets before bedtime, having breakfast, not going too long between meals.”