RAYMOND, Miss. (WJTV) – Unique nutritional needs require older Americans to pay special attention to how they stock their pantries to ensure they are consuming enough of the right foods.
“Healthy nutrition is essential across the life course, but in older adults, its importance shifts some,” said David Buys, Mississippi State University Extension Service health specialist. “Many older adults don’t get enough calcium, fiber, potassium, and vitamins D and B12. So, it’s important to pay attention to these nutrients because they can impact our likelihood of getting osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.”
Many times, life stage changes, including diminished physical ability to eat, difficulty cooking, and living on a fixed income, contribute to undernutrition.
“Sometimes as we age, we begin to lose our sense of smell or taste, and our ability to chew and swallow can fade,” Buys said. “There are a variety of factors that can affect what and how people eat as they get older, including living alone after the death of a loved one and medications that can change the way foods taste, make one’s mouth dry or reduce a person’s appetite.”
When these challenges are coupled with limited food shopping options, nutrition can take a hit. And it’s not just the loss of access to a wide variety of fresh foods that can cause people nutritional problems.
“When a community loses their grocery store, we sometimes think of that as detrimental because of the loss of fresh fruits and vegetables, a meat department, and a hearty dairy selection. But for older adults, the loss of the deli with hot, prepared food can also be a challenge,” Buys said.
According to “The State of Senior Hunger in America 2019,” the most recent report by Feeding America, 5.2 million seniors aged 60 and over were food insecure in 2019. That number is equivalent to about one in 14 seniors.
A separate report by Feeding America shows that food-insecure seniors consume fewer key nutrients — including iron, calcium and protein — than food-secure seniors. Food insecure seniors also are more likely to have health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, depression and congestive heart failure.
Qula Madkin, Extension registered dietitian and nutrition educator, said access and cost are the two major issues that face people who are food insecure.
“There are ways to be creative with your shopping list to purchase inexpensive, nutritious foods that will last and are shelf-stable,” Madkin said. “I encourage people to break their shopping lists down into categories, such as grains, dairy, protein, and fruits and vegetables so that they are sure to get foods that meet their nutritional needs when they shop.”
She recommends both Extension Publication 3430, “14-Day Shopping and Meal Plan,” and Feeding America’s “Cheap and Healthy Shopping List” as helpful references for making a grocery list. Both include tips for shopping and meal planning on a budget, and the Extension publication provides several recipes, along with a list of nonmeat protein sources.
In addition to calcium, fiber, potassium, and vitamins D and B12, Madkin also recommends older adults include more protein, potassium, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium and iron in their diets.
While meat is a great source of protein, there are several nonmeat protein sources that can help stretch budgets. These include cooked eggs, beans, tofu, cottage cheese, cornmeal, oatmeal and whole-wheat pasta.
“Eggs can be used as a substitute for meat in most dishes,” Madkin said. “For example, if a recipe calls for chicken, you can use boiled eggs instead. Or you could use half-chicken, half-cooked eggs. Cottage cheese works well in casseroles. If you want or need meat, canned chicken can be less expensive than fresh chicken.”
Many vegetables are a good source of protein, including spinach, asparagus, artichokes, mushrooms, broccoli, lima beans, soybean sprouts, green peas, sweet corn, Brussels sprouts and others.
When shopping on a budget, concentrate on items that are affordable and can be stored in the available space.
“If you have a small freezer, focus on buying more canned goods,” Madkin said. “You can also save money by using grocery store coupons and grocery store apps.”
Buys encourages community members to look out for one another.
“Pay attention to those around you,” he said. “Ask yourself, is there an older adult in my own family, neighborhood or church who could use a meal? You don’t have to prepare a full spread. Just box up some of what you’re preparing for your own family and drop it by. Or better yet, invite them to join you.
“Think about the organizations you are involved in, what kinds of opportunities do you have for older adults to gather and share a meal together,” Buys said. “Do you consider homebound older adults when you have functions and deliver food to them?”
Supplemental food programs are available in some areas through the local Area Agency on Aging. Meal delivery programs and meal programs offered in group settings are sometimes available for no or low cost.