Not having an appetite is a frustrating problem for people who are underweight, or losing weight when they don’t want to. You know it's important to eat a variety of foods to maintain your health as you get older, but it's hard to eat when you’re not hungry or food isn't appealing.
There are many reasons why you may not be hungry. Lack of appetite could be a side effect of a medication you're taking. Your appetite may be low because you’re feeling depressed or anxious. It could also be that food just doesn't taste good. Or it's too much trouble to cook a meal. No matter what the reason, if you are underweight, increasing your appetite can also improve your health.
"Getting adequate nutrition each day can really make a difference in how you feel," says Kathleen Zelman, RD, director of nutrition at WebMD. "Eating well also keeps your body and mind strong and healthy."
Adult children can play a big role in enhancing nutrition for parents who've lost their appetite and may have lost interest in cooking altogether. "As far as making big meals, seniors have done it," says Joanne Koenig Coste, who was a caregiver to her parents and now works with family caregivers. "They've had their time doing that. It’s our turn now to think of things, small things, that will stimulate their interest in eating."
Here are eight ways to help boost your appetite and nutrition.
1. Go for Nutrient-Rich Foods
"You want to be careful not to fill up on empty calories, such as baked goods, chips, and soda," says Zelman. "As you age, you need fewer calories, but have higher nutritional needs. So the less you’re able to eat, the more nutritionally dense your meals should be." This means eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein and limiting foods high in fats and sugars.
Many older people resort to eating processed or fast foods because they don't need to prepare it, Coste tells WebMD. Children can help out by preparing and portioning out nutrient-rich foods so that they're ready to eat, microwave, or pop in the toaster oven. This could include snack-size bags of washed berries or nuts, already-chopped vegetables for munching or an easy sauté, or the makings of a salad in a plastic container. And when you make a stew or soup for your dinner, make some extra to bring to them.
How much you need to eat in your senior years depends on your activity level and whether you're male or female. Women over age 50 need about 1,600 to 2,200 calories each day while men need about 2,000 to 2,800 calories. Inactive men and women should aim for the lower range of calories, while those who are most active should try to eat the highest amount of calories in that range.