Stay Hydrated, Eat Protein: Nutrition Tips for Seniors
Summer is here, along with those sizzling high temperatures. It’s more important than ever that seniors stay hydrated during this time.
Our expert dietary consultant, Heather Schwartz tells you how. Learn more from these nutrition tips for hydration and protein intake in seniors. We rely on our doctors for advice on the most important health decisions we make, yet when it comes to nutrition advice, sometimes there is a gap or misunderstanding in how we think we should put their recommendations into effect.
For example, “Increase your hydration,” and “consume more protein,” are some of the recommendations seniors often hear at the doctor’s office… But rarely are they given the information to understand why and how to do this.
Here are some common nutrition recommendations frequently heard in the doctor’s office, and why your doctor most likely wants you to do it, and how to make it happen when you walk out of the office.
Common Nutrition Advice Doctors Give Seniors
1. Increase Hydration
Why is your doctor recommending this?
If you take in less fluid than your body needs, you are at risk of dehydration. Dehydration is common in seniors due to decreased feelings of thirst, medications and diseases that increase your fluid needs, and decrease in overall food and beverage intake.
Dehydration can cause confusion, fatigue, hot or cold sensations, muscle cramping, headache, dry mouth, eyes and skin, constipation, dangerous changes to blood pressure, and abnormal blood chemistry (ex: blood sugar, electrolytes).
How much fluid is this, exactly?
- If you are 65 or older, your mission is to get in: 2 Liters per day, or 9 glasses (1 glass = 8 oz) of fluid
- If you have kidney or heart problems, please ask your doctor for specific amounts
- Remember that all liquid counts (milk, soup, coffee and tea, popsicles) and some fruits and vegetables too
- Drink 1 glass with each meal and one in between meals to make sure you get enough
- Keep fluid in arm’s reach throughout the day and stash one in the car or your bag when you leave the house
- Your urine should be light in color, as the darker it is, the more at risk of dehydration you are
2. Consume More Protein
Why is your doctor recommending this?
Without enough protein, your body struggles to maintain its immune system and muscles. This increases your risk of infections and pressure sores, falls and broken bones, and can make movement challenging.
Protein deficiency in seniors is a rising concern and can cause problems with wound healing, dental issues, easy bruising, fatigue and decreased appetite. Protein foods usually require the ability to cook and chew, and also, eating enough protein may help those trying to lose weight more successful.
How much protein is this, exactly?
- New research suggests that seniors may need more protein than we used to think
- A minimum to aim for is ~45 grams for senior women, and ~60 grams for senior men (for specific guidelines, speak to your registered dietitian)
- One egg white has 7 grams of protein, 1 string cheese has 8 grams, and a can of tuna or chicken has close to 40 grams
How do you physically plan to reach this goal?
- Make sure you get enough by eating a good protein source at each meal and at snacks
- If you have difficulty chewing or swallowing your protein, know that there are many ways to drink your protein as well
- Milk, yogurt, soy milk, protein smoothies and some nutrition supplements can be great sources of protein too
Breakfast tip: Cook your hot breakfast cereal with low fat milk or soy milk instead of water (+8 grams)
Lunch tip: Add ½ cup beans to your salad or soup (+6 grams)
Dinner tip: Finish the protein on your plate before starting on the fruits, vegetables, starches and dessert.
Snack: Add 1/4c of nonfat dry milk powder to your pudding or smoothie (+8 grams)
*Keep in mind that too much of anything is not always a good thing — this goes for protein too! Seek advice from your doctor about your protein needs if you have kidney issues.
About the Author
Heather Schwartz is a Registered Dietitian working at Stanford Hospital and Clinics. Having worked with acutely ill, hospitalized patients and their families for many years, Heather has transitioned into a counseling-intensive role where she works closely with seniors and their caregivers. Through group seminars, e-media, and individual nutrition counseling, Heather is able to effectively communicate nutrition messages to those striving for improvements in their health and the health of those for whom they provide care. Having worked at two of the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals in the past decade, Heather practices evidence-based, cutting-edge nutrition therapies to coach her clients and their caregivers to success.
Heather completed her undergraduate degree in Nutrition Science at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, California, her Master’s degree in Nutrition Science at San Jose State University and fulfilled her dietetic internship at the University of California, San Francisco. She has been a caregiver for her family and has used A Place For Mom’s resources in the past.
Do you have any other senior nutrition-related questions you’d like Heather to answer? Share your questions for her in the comments below.
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