Seniors have a different physiology when it comes to tasting food and fulfilling nutritional needs. As our body ages there are changes in our ability to taste and smell, which affect our taste of food. As the number of taste buds start decreasing after age 50, so does our ability to gauge the taste of salty and sweet—oftentimes making food taste more bitter or sour. This can lead to practices like over salting food, which contributes to hypertension. The loss of smell can also have a huge impact on the types of food one chooses to eat as smell contributes to the flavor of foods. Between the decreased abilities of the nose and tongue, we have to make some adjustments to our cooking to make sure healthy food is still consumed and palatable. How can seniors make meals more enjoyable and healthy? Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and author of The Doctors’ Detox Diet suggests the following:

  1. 1. Make meals social events. Eat with other seniors or at extended-family celebrations, potluck dinners, and community meals, Gerbstadt says. You’re more likely to eat well and get proper nutrition when you’re having a good time with family and friends. Shut-ins also can benefit from Meals-on-Wheels or other similar programs where friendly drivers with nutritious meals appear at their door.
  2. 2. Watch the temperature. Food that is supposed to be hot tastes better when it actually is hot, and food that is supposed to be served cold tastes better when it is cold, says Jessica Crandall, RD, CDE, program director for Sodexo Wellness and Nutrition Services and an ADA spokeswoman. “To increase the taste, you may need to make your dishes a little warmer or a little colder,” she says.
  3. 3. Use more herbs and spices. Herbs and spices will add flavor without increasing your blood pressure the way that salt does, Gerbstadt says. “There are hundreds available that will liven up any entrée or meal.” Crandall recommends basil for Italian foods; cilantro for Mexican, Latin American, and Asian cuisine; oregano for Italian and Greek cuisine; and turmeric for Indian cuisine. Cooked vegetables such as beets, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, turnips, and winter squash can benefit from some caraway, and dill seeds are a great addition to rice and fish dishes. Another no- or low-sodium option is citrus juice, citrus zest, or flavored and aged vinegars, Gerbstadt says.
  4. 4. Try something new. “When you try new foods and experiment with recipes, you create variety," Crandall says. "Variety can make meals more enticing and can build better nutrition into what you’re eating." Even seniors who are set in their ways can be tempted to try something new and nutritious if it contains ingredients they like.
  5. 5. Savor your favorite meal. People very often have a particular time of day when they have a bigger appetite. For some, it’s right after they wake up, so breakfast is their main meal. For others, it’s later in the day, when they’re more alert but relaxed. Pay attention to what time of day you’re hungriest, and then make the most out of the meal that coincides with that time.

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