As our loved ones grow older, they experience significant changes in their nutritional needs, which increases their likelihood of developing dietary restrictions. Some of the most common limitations in seniors today include gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance and low-sodium dietary needs.
These changes in dietary needs have a significant effect on the health and overall well-being of these individuals. This post will discuss how dietary limitations necessitate a personalised approach to nutrition, along with tips for meal planning and preparation to accommodate them. But before we get into that, let’s look at the reasons behind these restrictions and their impact on seniors’ health.
- Gluten intolerance (celiac disease) – Gluten intolerance is a common dietary condition in which the human immune system reacts to gluten (a protein found in barley, wheat and rye). If an individual with the condition consumes gluten, it triggers an immune response in the small intestine. With time, the reaction will damage the walls of the small intestine, causing digestive issues, such as malabsorption of nutrients. It is important to recognise the prevalence of gluten intolerance in older adults as it can cause a myriad of issues, including nutrient deficiencies, loss of weight and a damaged immune system.
- Lactose intolerance – Lactose intolerance is a condition in which the body lacks lactase, the enzyme responsible for digesting lactose (the sugar present in dairy products, such as milk and yoghurt. If a lactose intolerant individual consumes lactose-containing foods, they will experience digestive issues, such as bloating, diarrhoea and gas. The condition is common in seniors as there is a general decline in lactase production as individuals grow older.
- Low-sodium diets – Many older adults also require a low-sodium diet due to conditions such as heart disease, kidney problems and high blood pressure. Excess sodium in the body increases fluid retention, which increases blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular events. So adhering to low-sodium dietary restrictions helps individuals better manage their cardiovascular health.
With the impact of these dietary restrictions on the health of our older loved ones, it is essential to develop a personalised nutritional plan to maintain their overall well-being. But what are the benefits of tailored dietary approaches for seniors with dietary limitations?
Importance of Personalised Nutrition in Seniors With Dietary Restrictions
Personalising nutrition for seniors can help alleviate the symptoms associated with dietary limitations. For example, adhering to a gluten-free diet effectively manages digestive problems and promotes nutrient absorption in older adults with gluten intolerance conditions. Similarly, ensuring seniors with issues such as high blood pressure consume less sodium can help manage the disease and keep the symptoms at bay.
Reduce the Risk of Health Complications
As we can see, failure to adhere to these dietary restrictions can lead to serious health complications in seniors. So, personalising their meals can help minimise the risks, ensuring their overall well-being. For instance, reducing sodium intake minimises cardiovascular events in individuals with high blood pressure. Similarly, a tailored lactose intolerance diet (that maintains adequate vitamin D and calcium levels) can help mitigate the risk of bone-related problems.
Enhances Seniors Overall Well-being
A personalised diet takes into account the unique dietary limitations of the senior. As such, it allows for a more customised approach to elderly nutritional needs, which is essential to optimising their overall well-being. For instance, a lactose intolerance diet reduces the level of discomfort and improved digestion for lactose intolerant older individuals. Similarly, a low sodium intake will minimise the risk of our elderly loved ones falling ill and getting hospitalised.
Once you understand the importance of personalising nutrition in seniors, the next step is exploring specific dietary choices and alternatives. Let’s have a look at some practical recommendations tailored to suit elderly nutritional needs:
For older adults with gluten intolerance, it is essential to adhere to a gluten-free diet (with gluten-free alternatives). Luckily, there are plenty of options to choose from, including;
- Gluten-free grains, such as rice, quinoa and buckwheat, to replace wheat-based products
- Gluten-free flours, including coconut flour, tapioca flour and almond flour, to replace wheat flour in baking
You can also modify senior’s dishes with gluten-free pasta, crackers and bread or opt for gluten-free pizza with cauliflower crust and zucchini noodles with homemade pesto to meet their dietary needs without compromising their health.
There are plenty of lactose-free alternatives that are perfectly safe for lactose-intolerant seniors to enjoy. Some of the options include;
- Dairy milk alternatives, including soy milk and almond milk, are excellent alternatives to provide calcium and vitamin D
- Non-dairy sources of calcium, including leafy greens, canned fish with soft bones and fortified plant-based products
- Lactose-free cheeses and yoghurts manufactured from plant-based ingredients as snack alternatives
Lactose-free milk can substitute regular milk as recipes in smoothies, baked goods and cereals.
Seniors with conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease should stick to a low-sodium diet to reduce the risk of complications. Here are a few excellent ways to minimise sodium intake levels:
- Opt for fresh, unprocessed foods or vegetarian diets
- Flavour meals using spices and herbs (such as lemon juice, vinegar and ginger) instead of relying heavily on salt
- Prepare meals with fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and low sodium condiments
Practical Tips for Meal Planning to Accommodate Dietary Restrictions
Opt for fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins. It might help if you familiarise yourself with the store’s layout so you always know where lactose-free, gluten-free and low-sodium alternatives are located.
When caring for an older adult with dietary limitations, it is wise to develop a habit of reading labels before buying products. Always ensure you purchase products with ingredients that align with their needs.
Selecting the Right Recipes
Research recipes and cookbooks for specific dietary limitations, such as gluten-free, lactose-free, and low-sodium recipes. These options, available online, can make your meal planning and preparation easier.
Communicating Dietary Needs for seniors
Consider communicating dietary needs to caregivers or dining establishments when dining out of home. Ask for available options and if they can accommodate the nutritional requests.
For older individuals dealing with dementia, it is also essential to consider their dietary needs. Learn more about the best diet for dementia patients on this page.