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Stay Hydrated, Eat Protein: 2 Nutrition Tips for Seniors

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenSeptember 12, 2019

Last Updated: September 12, 2019

This time of year, it’s more important than ever that our parents and senior loved ones stay hydrated. A Place for Mom’s senior nutrition expert, Heather Schwartz, RD, tells us how.

Learn more from these nutrition tips for hydration and protein intake in seniors.

The 2 Most Common Nutrition Tips for 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.

“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 how and why to do this.

Here are some common nutrition recommendations heard in the doctor’s office, as well as how to make it happen when you walk out of the office:

1. Increase hydration.

How do you physically plan to reach this goal?
  • Drink 1 glass of fluid 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

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 heart or kidney problems, please ask your doctor for specific amounts
  • Remember that all liquid counts (coffee, milk, popsicles, soup, tea, etc.) and some fruits and vegetables too

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, as well as diseases and medications that increase fluid needs.

Dehydration can cause confusion, cold or hot sensations, dry mouth, fatigue, headache, and more symptoms.

2. Consume more protein.

How do you physically plan to reach this goal?

  • If you have difficulty chewing or swallowing your protein, know that there are many ways to drink your protein as well
  • Make sure you get enough by eating a good protein source at each meal and at snacks
  • Milk, protein smoothies, yogurt, and some nutrition supplements can be great sources of protein too

How much protein is this, exactly?

  • 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)
  • New research suggests that seniors may need more protein than we used to think
  • One egg white has 7 grams of protein, 1 string cheese has 8 grams, and a can of chicken or tuna has close to 40 grams

Why is your doctor recommending this?

Without enough protein, your body struggles to maintain its immune system and muscles. This increases your risk of falls, infections and pressure sores, and can make movement challenging.

Protein deficiency in seniors is a rising concern and can cause problems with bruising, dental issues, fatigue, wound healing, and more. Protein foods usually require the ability to chew and cook, and also, eating enough protein may help those trying to lose weight more successful.

Senior Nutrition: Meal Tips

Schwartz, RD, shares the following four nutrition tips for meal planning for seniors:

1. Breakfast.

Cook your hot breakfast cereal with low-fat milk or soy milk instead of water (+8 grams).

2. Lunch.

Add ½ cup beans to your salad or soup (+6 grams).

3. Dinner.

Finish the protein on your plate before starting on the fruits, starches, vegetables, and finally, dessert.

4. Snack.

Add 1/4 c 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, she transitioned into a counseling-intensive role where she works closely with seniors and their caregivers. Through group seminars, e-media, and individual nutrition counseling, Schwartz can 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, Schwartz practices evidence-based, cutting-edge nutrition therapies to coach her clients and their caregivers to success.

Schwartz 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 nutrition-related questions or summer tips for seniors you’d like to have answered? Share your questions for Heather Schwartz, RD, in the comments below.

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Dana Larsen
Dana Larsen
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