03/21/2017 04:31 EDT | Updated 03/21/2017 04:31 EDT

How Often Do You Think About Nutrition?

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Too often Nutrition Month comes and goes without too much consideration by many of us, and that is a wasted opportunity. We should all see it as a chance to take stock on what we eat, and why. Most of us understand the importance of a balanced diet and the need to get regular exercise. Yet for a variety of reasons we fail. This is no longer a problem just for adults who lead a sedentary lifestyle; the rates of childhood obesity are heading towards crisis levels. Medical experts are warning dealing with overweight youngsters will soon put a greater strain of the health system than the treatment of seniors.

And at the seniors level the problem is rarely about overeating but about not eating enough. Seniors are especially susceptible to malnutrition. For example, it is more difficult to maintain a well-balanced diet when a person has a dental or denture issue. Not all seniors are able to chew the types of food that were part of their diet for decades. An inability to chew properly may result in seniors avoiding items such as fruits and vegetables. Those who experience these difficulties are more likely to rely on soft, easy-to-swallow refined foods or to skip meals all together. A less varied diet can lead to higher salt intake and unhealthy cholesterol levels.

As we age and are less active, we need to take in fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight. But as any senior will tell you, old age comes at a physical cost: less energy and more joint pains. That in turn means being less mobile and burning fewer calories. Subsequently, your metabolism slows down and caloric needs lower to match. Also, seniors are not only experiencing a loss of appetite but a diminishing sense of taste and smell.

Eating less may not be a problem if a person is reducing their level of physical activity. However, it is vital the diet is sufficient enough in calories and nutrients to maintain healthy organs, muscles, and bones. Skipping a meal every so often is not an issue for your body but when it becomes a regular occurrence it can lead to malnutrition and serious health problems.

For seniors, losing a spouse or other family members can have a dramatic effect on their daily habits, including eating. If you are not accustomed to cooking or don't like the hassle of cooking for one it is very easy to fall into a very harmful lifestyle.

At a time when it is very important to have a varied and beneficial diet, some seniors are simply not eating.

While caloric needs decrease with age your nutrient needs stay the same or increase. Eating nutrient-rich foods ensures you get the vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, and fats you need.

Some nutrient dense foods are:

  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Lean protein

Fiber is another essential for a healthy diet and happy digestive system. Fiber is especially important for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Good sources of fiber can usually been found in the nutrient-dense foods.

Ready-made meals are becoming more available and can be a good option it they are designed to accommodate the variety of special requirements some seniors have. These could be for people who are diabetic. Others diets may include low fat, low calorie, low sodium and texture modified diets. The food seniors eat has be tailored to the needs of seniors.

While the food may change the amount we need to drink does not. Seniors should still aim for the classic eight servings of eight ounce glasses each day. It is possible to get water from juice, tea, soup and even water rich vegetables and fruits.

But proper a diet of food and drink does not compensate for the lack of social interaction. When possible, eat with friends and family. Senior centres often offer communal meals as an activity. Sharing this time with others can turn mealtimes from a chore into an enjoyable event.

This year's nutrition month should remind us eating is a social interaction, served with love.

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