Good nutrition is the cornerstone of healthy aging. Yet as we age, our dietary requirements change. We usually don’t need as many calories. But we have to be sure we get enough of certain key nutrients, like calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.
Getting proper nutrition often becomes harder with age because of things like loss of appetite or problems with chewing or swallowing food. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your doctor about nutrition. Here are questions you may want to ask.
How do I know if I’m getting all the nutrition I need?
Surveys show that many Americans, especially older Americans, aren’t getting all the nutrition they need.
Even many people who are overweight fall short on vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. They get plenty of calories, but they may not be getting enough nutrition. Unfortunately, a long-term lack of nutrients may happen before symptoms show up.
Early signs of this may include:
- Unusual fatigue
- Brittle hair or loss of hair
- Skin rashes or sores that don’t heal
- Cracks at the corners of the mouth
- A pale tongue
Do any of my meds affect my appetite or how food tastes?
A range of medicines, including many often used by older adults, can interfere with good nutrition.
Some pain relievers and arthritis meds irritate the stomach, for example. Some antibiotics, stool softeners, and chemotherapy drugs can affect how food tastes. Antidepressants, diuretics, pain medications, and some heart drugs can lower your appetite.
Does anything I’m taking get in the way of nutrients I need?
I’m not very hungry when I know it’s time to eat. Is that normal for someone my age?
There are many reasons why older adults often don’t have a big appetite. Because they are usually less active than younger people, they need fewer calories. And less ability to taste may mean that food just doesn’t have as much appeal as it once did.
However, a big loss of appetite or weight loss can also be a sign of depression or other serious health problems. Tell your doctor if you see a change in your appetite or lose weight without trying.
Should I take a multivitamin?
Experts disagree about whether older Americans should take multivitamins. Most nutritionists agree that the best way to get your nutrients is from food, not pills.
If you have trouble eating a balanced diet, ask your doctor whether you should take a multivitamin. Be sure to let your doctor know about all pills you take, including supplements.
What about taking other supplements?
Some people may need to take additional supplements of certain nutrients.
For example, if you don’t eat foods rich in calcium, like dairy products, you may need a supplement. Talk to your doctor before taking any pills.
Should I cut back on salt?
The American Heart Association recommends everyone have less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. They estimate that if people did this, it would result in a 25% drop in high blood pressure across the country.
Up to three-quarters of the salt we eat comes in packaged foods, so reading labels is particularly helpful.
How much alcohol is safe to drink?
Moderate amounts of alcohol reduce the risk of heart disease.
This doesn’t mean you should start drinking. But if you already drink alcohol, talk to your doctor about a safe level for you. Drinking too much can lead to serious health problems.
Could I cut back on some of my medications by following a healthier lifestyle?
Many older people can cut back on blood pressure, cholesterol, or other medications if they eat a healthier diet and get more exercise. Some discover they can go off certain prescription drugs completely.
Talk to your doctor about whether a healthier lifestyle could mean taking fewer pills. Don’t stop taking medicines on your own.
Should I see a registered dietitian?
Even though doctors understand the importance of a healthy diet, they often don’t have time to provide complete dietary counseling. If you have more questions than your doctor has time to answer, ask him to recommend a registered dietitian. Medicare and private insurers often cover nutrition consultations.