Your appetite can change as you get older. As you age, your body digests food more slowly. That can make you feel fuller longer and curb your urge to eat. And your senses of smell and taste can change as you age, too, and make eating less enjoyable.
By the time you’re 70, you’re likely to take in 20% fewer calories than you did when you were in your mid-20s. You may not get enough nutrients to keep you healthy. That can weaken your immune system and raise your chances of getting sick or getting an infection. And if you’re underweight, you may be more likely to break a bone.
If you notice that you’re losing weight or your doctor says you need more nutrition, you can do a few things about it.
DO: Eat small meals.
Because your digestion is slower than it used to be, you may feel uncomfortably full after large meals. One way to make sure you get enough calories is to eat several small meals a day instead of a few bigger ones.
Try to have three small meals and two or three large snacks between mealtime, or have four or five small meals throughout the day.
DO: Choose foods rich in nutrients.
Switch up what you eat so you get the nutrients you need. Choose a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein (like eggs, chicken breast, turkey, and fatty fish such as salmon), healthier fats (like olive oil, nuts, and avocado), and dairy.
If you’re not sure what to eat, how much you should eat, or how to prepare food, let your medical team know. They can pair you with a dietitian or nutritionist who can help you make a healthy eating plan.
If your doctor says you’re not getting enough calories, work healthy higher-calorie foods into every snack and meal. Peanut butter and nuts, avocado, cheese, whole milk, and protein supplements (such as whey protein shakes) are good choices.
DON’T: Fill up on junk food.
To make sure you have room for nutrient-rich food, skip ones that are high in saturated fat or sugar or that don’t have many vitamins and minerals (cookies, chips, and soda, for example). If you do eat these foods, have them as a treat after you’ve eaten a healthy meal.
DO: Eat with friends and family.
Dining with others can make eating more enjoyable. Potlucks or meals at someone else’s house can be a good way to try different foods and find new things you like.
DO: Stay active.
Exercise burns calories, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Moving regularly can rev your appetite, which can help you eat more. Physical activity is also good for your overall health and can lower your chances of serious health problems like heart disease and diabetes. Tell your doctor if you’re worried that being active may be part of why you’re losing weight.
DO: Ask for help.
If you’re not eating enough or not eating the right foods because it’s hard to shop or cook for yourself, ask friends or family to help. And talk to your doctor. They may know of free or low-cost community resources, like Meals on Wheels.
DON’T: Drink too much before meals.
Age doesn’t just affect your appetite. You may feel less thirsty as you get older, too. It’s important to stay hydrated, which means drinking water and other fluids, like tea, milk, and juice, even when you’re not thirsty.
Still, you want to make sure you don’t overload on beverages (especially filling drinks like milkshakes or sodas) before meals because that can affect your appetite.
DO: Take extra care if you’ve had medical problems.
If you’ve been sick or recently had surgery, your appetite may take a hit. Older adults have a harder time gaining back weight and getting the nutrients they need after medical procedures.
Talk to your doctor, dietitian, or hospital and ask if you need to do anything extra, like drink protein shakes, to stay healthy during your recovery.