Expert Tips on How to Help Seniors Increase Hydration and Protein Intake
Nutrition needs change as we age and Heather Schwartz, a Registered Dietitian working at Stanford Hospital and Clinics, provides insight into why it’s difficult for seniors to change their diets and follow the “doctor’s orders.” Get tips on how to help your senior loved one implement recommended diet changes in the real world.
By guest blogger: Heather Schwartz, MS, RD
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 two common nutrition recommendations frequently heard in the doctor’s office, why he/she most likely wants you to do it, and how to make it happen when you walk out of the office.
Two Common Nutrition Doctor’s Orders for Senior Citizens
1. “Increase your hydration”
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-the darker it is, the more at risk of dehydration you are!
2. “Consume more protein”
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, 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 too. If you have difficulty chewing or swallowing your protein, there are many ways to drink your protein too-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 lowfat milk or soymilk 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.
Stay tuned for more examples of how to take your doctor’s nutrition orders into action!
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, CA, 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 recent past.
Do you have any other senior nutrition-related questions you’d like Heather to answer? If so, please list them in the comments section below. Thanks!
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