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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Myths & Facts About Food and Nutrition After 60

Myth: If you don’t feel like eating, it’s OK to skip a meal.

Fact: Loss of appetite is a common complaint among older adults, leading many to skip meals. That’s a bad idea for several reasons.

First, people who skip a meal because they’re not hungry can later gorge on high-calorie, nutrient-poor snacks between meals. Skipping meals can also cause blood sugar levels to fall too low; then when you do eat a big meal, they can surge too high. Skipping meals, paradoxically, can also suppress appetite. That can be a problem for older people who already suffer from a loss of appetite.

“The best advice is to always start your day with a healthy breakfast, since appetite is usually best in the morning,” says Wellman. “Then make sure you eat something at every meal time.”

Myth: If you drink fluids when you feel thirsty, you won’t become dehydrated.

Fact: “Physiological changes associated with aging mean that the sensation of hydration is less accurate as we age,” says Lichtenstein. “Older people may not feel thirsty even when they’re becoming dehydrated.”

There are no set guidelines for how much each of us should drink, since fluid requirements vary widely depending on body size, weather, activity level and other factors. The best advice: drink liquids regularly throughout the day. If you’re trying to lose weight, choose water or zero-calorie drinks.

Myth: Dividing meals in half and keeping leftovers is a great way to save money and time.

Fact: While it’s true that leftovers can make cooking easier and help tight budgets go farther, there are dangers.

“Seniors who get meals delivered to their homes through programs such as Meals-on-Wheels should avoid dividing those meals into two,” says Kathleen Niedert, RD, director of clinical nutrition and dining services for Western Home Communities in Iowa and a leading advisor to the American Dietetic Association. “These meals are usually prepared to give you balanced nutrition. If you divide one meal into two, you can easily fall short on key nutrients.”

Storing leftovers also raises the risk that food can go bad, according to Carolyn Raab, PhD, a food and nutrition specialist and professor at Oregon State University. “As we age, the sense of smell declines, so seniors sometimes can’t tell as easily that a food is spoiled. That’s especially worrisome because food poisoning from spoiled food poses a particularly serious risk for seniors.”

Her advice: make sure to keep your kitchen clean, cook foods thoroughly, and refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible.

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