The right foods in the right amounts are key to a long and healthy life, and your body’s needs change as you get older. For example, you don’t need as many calories, but you need more of some nutrients like vitamin D and calcium. And as you age, your body might have trouble taking in and using vitamins found in foods, like B12.
Because of this, older adults don’t always get the nutrients they need. It can be a good idea to know the signs of poor nutrition so you can talk with your doctor if you notice any of them.
1. Feeling Tired
If you lack energy all the time, it can be a sign that you don’t get enough of certain nutrients, like iron. Too little of that mineral can lead to anemia -- when you don’t have enough red blood cells to pump oxygen and nutrients to parts of your body.
Fatigue also can be a symptom of some health conditions, like heart disease or a thyroid problem.
2. Brittle, Dry Hair
Nutrients like iron, folate, and vitamin C are important for your hair. If you don’t get enough of these through your diet, you might notice some unhealthy changes in it. Your skin also might be thin and pale.
But other health conditions, like a problem with your thyroid, can affect your hair and skin, too.
3. Ridged or Spoon-Shaped Nails
Poor nutrition can cause several changes in your nails. Like your hair, your nails can get thin and brittle, but there can be other signs as well. One is nails that curve like a spoon, especially on your index finger or third finger. That can mean you’re low on iron.
Your nails also may be ridged or start to come apart from the nail bed. In addition to issues with iron, nail problems can be caused by low levels of protein, calcium, or vitamins A, B6, C, and D.
4. Dental Problems
Your mouth is one of the first places signs of poor nutrition can show up. A lack of vitamin C can cause the bleeding, irritated gums of gingivitis (gum disease). In severe cases, you could even lose your teeth.
If you have dentures or missing or loose teeth, that can change your food choices. Poor nutrition then becomes a double-edged sword: If your mouth hurts and you have issues with your teeth, it’s even harder to eat healthy foods. And that makes it harder to keep your teeth healthy.
5. Change in Bowel Habits
Constipation can happen if you don’t get enough fiber, found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
6. Mood and Mental Health Issues
An unhealthy diet can play a role in depression. It can affect many different mental tasks and make you lose interest in things you used to enjoy. You also might feel disoriented and have memory loss.
7. Easy Bruising and Slow Healing
If you bruise easily, especially if there isn’t an obvious reason for it (like falling or bumping into something), your diet might be playing a part. Specifically, you may be lacking in protein, vitamin C, or vitamin K, all of which are needed to heal wounds. Vitamin C helps tissue to repair itself, and vitamin K is important for blood clotting.
8. Slow Immune Response
Without the right nutrition, your immune system might not be as strong as it needs to be to fight illness. Some of the most important nutrients for a strong immune system are protein and zinc, along with vitamins A, C, and E.
How to Stay Healthy
The best way to prevent these kinds of issues is with a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and healthier oils. Choose a variety of these foods at each meal to get the vitamins and minerals you need. And try to limit packaged or processed foods and baked goods that are high in saturated and trans fats.
If you have trouble eating well, talk with your doctor about ways to make a healthy plan.