It’s known that eating right can improve and extend lives, but what “eating right” entails isn’t always clear. This is especially true for seniors, whose nutritional needs are different than any other age group.

Here are 10 myths about senior nutrition that are commonly accepted as the truth, but have been disproved. Learn more about these myths so that you and your family can start eating right and improving your health.

10 Senior Nutrition Myths

The right diet and nutritional intake is arguably more important for seniors than for any other age group. Seniors have unique nutritional needs that can only be addressed when they are understood. Unfortunately, many false beliefs about a senior’s nutritional needs exist. Be aware of these myths so that seniors can start eating right or improving their health in other ways.

Here are 10 common but false beliefs about senior nutrition:


Myth #1: It’s Natural For Older People to Lose Their Appetite

It’s true that seniors need less food than younger adults because of metabolic changes and decreased energy output, but an outright loss of appetite is not normal, and could be a sign of serious health problem.

What’s more, simple causes such as a decreased sense of taste or dental problems can lead to seniors eating less and make it appear as though their appetite has decreased when it hasn’t. Seniors should weigh themselves (or be weighed by their caregivers) periodically to look for changes. Any sudden weight loss should be seen as a red-flag and warrants a visit to the doctor.

Myth #2: Being Moderately Overweight is a Sign of Robust Health

While one highly publicized study suggested that those who are moderately overweight have slightly longer lifespans, other studies, such as one at Oxford University, associated being moderately overweight with a decreased lifespan. The overweight, or obese, are said to experience lifespans 10 years less than average according to the Oxford study.

An association between being overweight and decreased lifespan is a natural conclusion because there are numerous documented risks to being overweight. Such risks include type-2 diabetes, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s disease. What’s more, being overweight can limit mobility, and lead to falls and decreased self-esteem.

Myth #3: It Doesn’t Matter Whether an Older Person Eats Alone or With Others – Food is Just Fuel For the Body

Elderly people who live alone and are left to prepare food by themselves, often have bad outcomes. Physical and cognitive problems often cause seniors to become unable to prepare adequately nutritious or filling meals. Eating almost every meal in isolation can also exacerbate loneliness, stress and anxiety. In other words, constantly eating alone can put seniors at risk.

It’s ideal for seniors to, at least some of the time, eat with others. Seniors living alone can visit senior centers where meals are available along with activities and company from people in their own generation. Senior communities are also a good solution for seniors unable to prepare meals. Common dining rooms and careful attention to nutrition is one of the primary benefits of living at a senior community, and many seniors experience dramatic health improvements when they move to a senior community for the simple reason that they are eating well again for the first time in years.

Myth #4: As Long as Seniors Follow Healthy Eating Guidelines, They’ll Be Fine

Eating guidelines provided by nutrition experts and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are based on decades of research into health. Educational tools such as MyPlate and the Food Pyramid, communicate the components of a healthy diet in simple way that anyone can understand. If more people followed these simple guidelines, Americans would be healthier. But most eating guidelines do not provide for the nuances and special nutritional needs of seniors:

  • Food guidelines may suggest a diet that contains ingredients that interact dangerously with a senior’s medication

  • Food guidelines may suggest a diet that could worsen common conditions among seniors such as diabetes and heart disease

  • A senior’s difficulty chewing or swallowing could make adhering to guidelines challenging

  • Seniors need more of certain vitamins and minerals to maintain optimum health, and this may not be reflected in the guidelines

Government food guidelines should serve as a reference point, but seniors (or their caregivers) must consider the nutritional and culinary implications of both their medicines and any health problems that can be influenced by diet. Seniors who are dealing with food-drug interactions or related problems should speak with their physician about creating personalized guidelines.

Myth #5: Senior Communities Have Awful Food