We are told many types of myths. We later learn they simply are not true. Nutrition myths in Older Adults are no exception.
Reduced mobility, restricted food budgets, and social isolation can each lead to changes in eating habits as we age. Taken together, the effects can be profound. These changes can greatly affect the nutritional condition of Older Adults. We also may fall prey to nutrition myths, when believed, can actually affect our level of health. Let’s fight misconceptions and gain health along the way.
Malnutrition? Under nourishment? Older Adults and Malnutrition? Does this really happen? Does it happen frequently? Do Older Adults need different nutrients than younger people? Let’s dive in to nutrition myths and Older Adults, learn what they are, and dispel them once and for all.
The myths fall into 5 Basic Categories
- Normalcy of Loss of Appetite
- Misunderstanding of Nutrient Needs
- Social Issues
- It’s Too Late to Matter
- Miscellaneous Other Reasons
Normalcy of Loss of Appetite
1.) Older People “Naturally” Lose Their Appetites
Think of your favorite food to eat. Imagine enjoying it to the fullest. For me, it is a peach. I love peaches in just about any form. A sweet, juicy peach right off the tree, in ice cream, or in salsa, or in a cobbler, or… or…. or. The variation of what deliciousness can be produced from a peach to me is endless. But why? It is the combination of the beautiful color, the fuzziness of the skin, the smell even before you eat it, and then the taste and texture once you take a bite that all combine together to make a peach amazing. Now imagine that your vision is impaired, and your senses of smell and taste are reduced. The once amazing and perfect peach loses it appeal.
Loss of appetite as one ages may be common, but it is certainly not optimal. The dangers lie in eating less than needed are weight loss and nutrient deficiencies. Both of these dangers can lead to increased frailty, falling, and eventually disease and death. There are many potential causes of loss of appetite and several of these may be addressed. Let’s help Older Adult to regain their appetite and reap the benefits. The causes range from physical to social to medication effects.
Older Adults are often faced with one or more of their senses being dulled to an extent. If one has always been a “Live to Eat” rather than an “Eat to Live” kind of person, then food just loses its draw and appetite decreases. These causes of reduction in appetite do not even begin to take hormonal changes, digestive challenges, or pain into account.
2.) It’s Okay to Skip a Meal if You Aren’t Hungry
There are two different sides of this myth. The first is that if your appetite is weak, it is okay to skip meals. The second is that it is no big deal to skip meals. Either way, a meal is skipped and this can be detrimental to your overall health. Skipping meals can lead to a roller coaster effects on blood sugar, especially if you are insulin resistant or diabetic.
Digestion and metabolism may be affected.
Mood can also be impacted. Have you ever heard the term “Hangry”? It is a combination of hungry and angry. This can happen at any age, not just for Older Adults.
One more problem with skipping meals? It can lead to overeating when you do actually sit down to eat.
The message for this myth: Don’t Skip Meals!!!
Misunderstanding Nutrient Needs
3.) Older Adults Need Fewer Nutrients Because Their Metabolism Slows Down &
This is a myth. Or rather this one can happen, but we can help lessen the decrease in metabolism in a number of way. Metabolic rate is based on lean muscle mass. Muscle mass does commonly decrease as we age, but there are antidotes. Exercise is one of course. But there are many others such as: increasing protein intake, up your fatty-acid intake, balance hormones, monitor your Vitamin D, increase anti-inflammatory foods and decrease pro-inflammatory foods, watch alcohol intake, and stop smoking. Please check out this article by Dr. Josh Axe where he gives details on each of these: Sarcopenia: 10 Keys to Keep Your Muscle Mass Up as You Age
4.) Nutritional Needs Stay the Same as You Age
This is a myth that continues to be investigated. Many doctors and researchers have determined that protein requirements increase, particularly in people over the age of 65. Please check out this article from AARP for details.
5.) Eating Something is Better Than Eating Nothing
The myth of “Something is Better Than Eating Nothing” is popular for people of any age. The truthfulness or falsity of this myth depends on the looking at the rest of the situation. If you are genuinely skipping meals for a day to two or longer because you do not have the healthiest options available, then perhaps this myth is a truth. However, if you are routinely using this as an excuse to eat foods that are highly processed and sugar dense, then it really is just an excuse. When someone gives this statement as a reason to eat junk food on a regular basis, then this myth needs to be challenged.
6.) Dividing Meals in Half is Okay
Dividing a meal in half may sound like a great idea. If it is one from a restaurant notorious for serving meals that are 3 to 4 times what a meal should contain, then dividing may be a great idea. If dividing a meal meant for one meal is done, however, there is the risk of not receiving enough of the necessary nutrients required by Older Adults. As noted in myth #4, protein requirements do increase as we age to help preserve muscle mass and help the biochemical functions in our bodies be effectively carried out.
7.) Supplements are Sufficient
Supplements can be a real boost to a diet deficient in necessary nutrients. However, they cannot adequately replace real, whole foods. Please check out what this article from the Mayo Clinic has to say about supplements. When you do choose a supplements, be sure to choose one from companies with verifiable ingredients and those tested for purity.
Look for Part 2: Nutrition Myths #8-12 (to be published)