elderly nutrition

Elderly Nutrition

Tips, Serving Sizes and More

An important aspect of elderly nutrition is healthy eating tips. Eating well balanced meals are important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Proper elderly nutrition includes eating carbohydrates, protein, fluids and healthy fats. All of these are types of nutrients, or substances that provide the nourishment needed for living.

Healthy eating - and proper elderly nutrition - is having a balanced diet where a person eats a variety of foods.

Elderly often require less calories as their bodies age, usually related to doing less physical activity, but the need for essential nutrients does not change.

Elderly may even need more of some nutrients such as vitamin D, vitamin B6, folate and calcium. Because of this, proper elderly nutrition becomes more important to get all the nutrients needed without extra calories and weight gain.

Healthy Nutrition Tips For Everyone

In General:

  • Eat a wide variety of foods
  • Eat in moderation, portion size is important

Eat More:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains (whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal)
  • Fish
  • Legumes (dried beans, peas, lentils)
  • Foods rich in calcium (low-fat milk products, yogurt, cheese)
  • Lean poultry and meat
  • Unsaturated fats (vegetables oils, nuts, seeds, avocado)

Eat Less:

  • Saturated fats (butter, lard, deli meats, bacon, sausages)
  • Trans fats (processed foods, cookies, cakes, deep fried foods)
  • Salt and sugar (includes drinks with a lot of sugar as well as jam, candy, baked goods)
  • Refined and enriched grains

An important part of elderly nutrition is to eat some of each of the four food groups (see below for suggested portion sizes):

  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Grain products (includes pasta, bread, cereals)
  • Milk products and alternatives (cheese, yogurt, fortified soy beverages)
  • Meat - poultry, fish, shellfish, lean meat - and alternatives (lentils, beans, eggs, tofu, nuts)

Healthy Nutrition Tips For Elderly

For optimal elderly nutrition, elderly need more:

  • Fibre: metabolism slows with age and fibre is needed to keep bowels regular
  • Vitamins and minerals: for energy and strong bones
  • Protein: often seniors need more protein, particularly if an elderly person suffers from chronic illness or has had a recent surgery
  • For Men: Most elderly men need to eat more fruit, vegetables or milk products
  • For Women: Most senior women need to eat more grains, fruit, vegetables, milk products and meat products

Nutrients are Essential to Proper Nutrition


Carbohydrates are the part of elderly nutrition that give your body the fuel to keep your heart, lungs and organs functioning.

Everyone thinks of carbohydrates (carbs) as breads and potatoes, but there are many other types of healthy carbs including fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grains.

They include minerals and vitamins and increase energy to walk downtown to visit loved ones.

Fibre is also an important part of elderly nutrition and it can be found in many carbs.

Some carbohydrates are unhealthy. These are usually the carbs that are digested quickly which raises blood sugar. Unhealthy carbs include white bread, white rice, cakes and cookies.


Most seniors only get about half of the fibre needed each day for proper elderly nutrition.

Fibre is needed to keep bowels healthy and regular. It is also great for lowering cholesterol, controlling blood sugar levels and prevent high blood pressure.

Fibre also has the added benefit of making people feel full for longer which can help to control weight.

If your loved one has bowel or intestinal disease, they should consult with their doctor or dietician.

High fibre (4 to six grams or more per serving) can be found in some grain and grain products. A high fibre cereal can help keep hunger at bay all day.

Some great sources of fibre are:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole wheat toast
  • Beans, chickpeas and lentils
  • Whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce
  • Low fat yogurt with fruit and bran sprinkled on top

Other tips for eating foods high in fibre:

  • Look for foods that have 4 - 6 grams or more of fibre per serving
  • As always, eat lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Drink lots of fluids to help fibre work properly. If one eats lots of fibre and doesn't drink plenty of fluids to help the fibre move through their system, it can result in constipation.
  • Women should drink at least nine 8 ounce-glasses
  • Men should drink at least twelve 8 ounce-glasses
  • Bread products should be made of whole wheat, wheat bran, mixed grains, dark rye or pumpernickel flours to look for higher fibre options. 'Whole grain' should be the first ingredient on the label.
  • 'Enriched Wheat flour' and 'unbleached flour' are both refined white flour and have less fibre, vitamins and iron than whole grain flour.
  • If eating more fibre is new, introduce it slowly to avoid difficulties with gas or cramps and make sure to accompany it with lots of fluids


Protein is needed to repair muscles, nails and skin. It can help with healing if your elderly parent has been sick or has had surgery.

The best sources of protein are fish, poultry, meat, milk, low fat cheese, eggs, legumes (dried beans, lentils peas), soy products (tofu or soy drinks), nuts and seeds.

Whole grains, vegetables and fruit can also provide small portions of protein.

Some easy ways to add protein to senior's diets:

  • Drink milk instead of water at one or more meals
  • Cut a hard boiled egg into salads or have as a side
  • Add a slice of cheese to sandwiches
  • Eat a handful of unsalted soy nuts
  • Add beans or chickpeas to stir fry or pasta sauce
  • Sprinkle nuts and seeds on salad, cereal or stir fry
  • Have peanut butter on a piece of whole wheat toast (PB and banana, yum!)

Some great ways to get protein plus some nutrients such as iron, calcium and B vitamins into meals:

For Breakfast:

  • Have an egg with a slice of whole wheat toast and a banana
  • Make oatmeal with an egg and milk or unsweetened soy drink

For Lunch:

  • Add chicken to salads or brown rice
  • Have a slice of cheese and bowl of lentil or bean soup

For Snacks:

  • Handful of mixed nuts
  • Bowl of low-fat yogurt
  • Glass of milk or unsweetened fortified soy drink

For Dinner:

  • Have fish with half a cup of brown rice (or basmati), half a cup of broccoli or another vegetable and a mixed salad


Although fluids are not immediately thought of as elderly nutrition, no one can go very long without fluids. Not only do they keep you alive, they help people think clearly and keep body temperature even.

Fluids are important for bowel health (you need fluids if you eat a diet high in fibre to avoid constipation).

Seniors may have more difficulty feeling when they are thirsty. On top of this, when you feel thirst, you are already dehydrated.

Dehydration is when a person has lost too much water and might start feeling fatigue, hot, flushed, confused and even nauseous.

Elderly should drink fluids regularly, whether they feel thirsty or not:

  • Women should drink at least nine 8 ounce-glasses
  • Men should drink at least twelve 8 ounce-glasses

If your loved one has heart disease, adrenal or thyroid disease, kidney or liver disease, they might need to drink less.

Elderly nutrition and fluids affect the health of seniors. Check with their doctor for the correct amount of fluids. Also talk to the doctor if your loved one is suddenly feeling very thirsty or has to urinate more often than usual. This might indicate a bladder infection.

Seniors should drink more when it is hot, after exercise or physical activity or if they have experienced vomiting or diarrhea.

Their fluid intake is likely fine if a colourless or light yellow coloured urine is produced and they feel good.

Ideas to increase fluid intake:

  • Avoid drinking sugary drinks (pop, sweetened fruit juice, iced tea)
  • You can drink unsweetened fruit or vegetable drinks
  • Start lunch or dinner with low-salt veggie soup
  • Low fat milk or buttermilk
  • Unsweetened fortified soy drinks
  • Decaffeinated coffee and tea (black, green, herbal and chai teas)
  • Low fat yogurt drinks


Fats is a tricky subject for elderly nutrition. They have often been thought of as something to avoid altogether.

Now it is shown that fats are an essential part of the diet and elderly nutrition - but the TYPE of fat is very important to consider.

Healthy fats supply your body with energy and give a protective coating to your cells. Fat consumed has to be 'healthy' fat and still must be eaten in moderation.

All fat, even the healthy kind, is high in calories. Too much fat will result in weight gain and increase risk of clogged arteries, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Trans and saturated fats are unhealthy fats. Trans fats are found mostly in vegetable oils that have been solidified through a process called hydrogenation.

Saturated fats come mostly from foods coming from animals. They are also found in coconut or palm oils.

Unhealthy fats are found in the following foods:

  • Butter
  • Hard margarines
  • Ghee
  • Lard
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Whole milk including coconut milk
  • Cream, sour cream and ice cream
  • Cheese and paneer
  • Fatty red meat (pork hock, sausage, bacon, preserved meats)
  • Palm and coconut oils
  • Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
  • Baked items (cookies, pies, cakes, pastries)

Healthy fats are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Omega 3 fatty acid is one type of polyunsaturated fat that decreases the likelihood of developing blood clots. This type of fat helps lower triglycerides which reduces risk of stroke and heart disease.

Healthy fats are found in the following foods (still to be eaten in moderation):

  • Fish such as salmon, sardines, rainbow trout, anchovies, mackerel, eulachon, char and herring
  • Flaxseed or walnut oils (these oils are only to be used cold, not to be heated)
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, ground flaxseed)
  • Vegetable oils (olive, canola, soybean, peanut, sesame oil)
  • Soft tub margarine made from the oils above that say 'non-hydrogenated' on the label
  • Avocado
  • Wheat germ
  • Omega 3 fortified foods such as eggs, yogurt, soy drinks

To eat the proper portions of fat, start by choosing foods naturally low in fat and then add only two or three tablespoons (30-40 grams) of healthy, unsaturated fats to your daily intake. This includes salad dressings, oil used for cooking, mayonnaise and margarine.

Read food labels and look for 'low fat' meaning there is less than three grams of fat per serving or 'fat free' indicating less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving.

Choose your fats carefully and don't waste your choices on cookies or cakes. Choose foods that provide lots of good nutrition along with fats, such as avocado, salmon, nuts and seeds and low-fat cheese.

Some low fat snacks suggestions:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Gingersnaps
  • Fig cookies
  • Melba toast
  • Whole wheat crackers with less than three grams of fat per serving
  • Low fat yogurt

Other ways to reduce bad fats and increase good fats:

  • Eat fish twice a week
  • Choose lean meat and trim off fat
  • Grill, roast or broil meat to allow the fat to drain off
  • Remove skin from chicken and turkey
  • Cook with low-fat dairy products made with skim or 1% milk or yogurt
  • Have legumes instead of meat at least once a week. You can make a meal with lentils, baked beans, chickpeas or cook something like chili with a lot of beans in it
  • Use low fat milk in coffee or tea
  • Choose low fat salad dressing
  • Use whole wheat flour in baking as able
  • Instead of butter or margarine, use small amounts of mustard, ketchup, relish, cranberry sauce or peanut butter on sandwiches or other meals

Reduce fat in favourite recipes by:

  • Use 1/4 less shortening, butter or other oils than the recipe calls for
  • Cut liquid fat called for in recipes by 1/3
  • Use skim milk instead of whole milk
  • Use two egg whites for one egg to reduce cholesterol and saturated fat
  • Use canned evaporated milk instead of whipping cream or regular evaporated milk
  • Use low fat yogurt, sour cream, cheese and mayonnaise instead of regular
  • Use buttermilk, low-fat cottage cheese or yogurt instead of sour cream
  • Replace fat in baking recipes with the same amount of applesauce, pureed prunes, mashed bananas, grated zucchini or pureed pumpkin. A bit of water or skim milk may have to be added for all of these
  • Substitutions other than applesauce.
  • Have boiled or steamed rice instead of fried rice
  • Choose lean meats and trim off extra fat, remove skin from turkey and chicken

An Easy Way For Elderly To Ensure Proper Nutrition

Eat from all four food groups:

  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Grain products (includes whole grain pasta, rice, bread, cereals)
  • Milk products and alternatives (low-fat cheese, yogurt, fortified soy beverages)
  • Meat (poultry, fish, shellfish, lean meat) and alternatives (lentils, beans, eggs, tofu, nuts and nut butters)

Recommendations for elderly nutrition for senior women:

  • 7 servings of vegetables and fruits each day
  • 3 servings of milk products and alternatives
  • 2 servings of meat and meat alternatives
  • 6 servings of grain products

Recommendations for elderly nutrition for senior men:

  • 7 servings of vegetables and fruits each day
  • 3 servings of milk products and alternatives
  • 3 servings of meat and meat alternatives
  • 7 servings of grain products

Serving Sizes

In addition to eating a variety of foods, the size of the serving is also an important part of elderly nutrition.

Vegetables and Fruits

  • 1 apple, orange, banana
  • half a cup of 100% fruit juice
  • half a cup of fresh, frozen or canned vegetables
  • 1 cup raw leafy vegetables or salad

Grain Products

  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread
  • half a bagel, pita or tortilla
  • half a cup of cooked pasta, rice, couscous, quinoa or bulgur
  • 3/4 of a cup of hot cereal or one ounce (30 g) of cold cereal

Milk Products and Alternatives

  • one cup of milk or soy drink
  • half cup of evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 ounces of cheese
  • 3/4 cup yogurt

Meat and Alternatives

  • 2 1/2 ounces of fish, shellfish, lean meat or poultry
  • 3/4 cup of meat alternatives
  • 150 grams of tofu or legumes
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons peanut buttermilk
  • 1/2 of a cup shelled nuts or seeds

What Portions Should a Healthy Plate Have?

  • 1/2 colourful veggies
  • 1/4 meat, poultry, fish, tofu or legumes
  • 1/4 whole grain products
  • Side of fruit or low-fat yogurt as a replacement for sweet desserts

Extra Tips

Extra tips to make sure your parents are getting the elderly nutrition they need:

  • Include at least one orange and one dark green vegetable each day for proper elderly nutrition (eg. Carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, broccoli, romaine lettuce, spinach)
  • Canned, frozen and dried vegetables and fruit are good choices as well; just make sure the canned fruit is packaged in water or juice Ð not syrup Ð and veggies are packaged with little or no salt
  • Eat vegetables and fruit more often than juice
  • Eat fish twice a week (choose salmon, char, herring, mackerel, sardines, trout)
  • Have meat alternatives like tofu, lentils and other beans often
  • Select lean meats and alternatives prepared with little or no added fat or salt.
  • Drink skim or 1 - 2 % milk everyday. If you don't drink milk, drink fortified soy beverage.
  • Choose lower fat milk alternatives
  • Try to make half, if not all, your grain products whole grain (eg. Barley, brown rice, oats, quinoa, wild or brown rice)
  • For proper elderly nutrition, choose products lower in salt, sugar and fat

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