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The Best Foods to Help the Elderly Gain Weight

Discover the best ways to help seniors eat healthy and gain weight. Seniorly can help with weight gain strategies to help your senior stay healthy.

By Lydia Bruno · Updated Aug 08, 2022
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The elderly population is one of the fastest growing demographics in the world. This means that more and more people are living longer, but also becoming frail with age. Our culture tends to focus on the benefits of weight loss but the opposite can be true for seniors. The problem for many older adults is not only losing weight, but gaining it back after they lose it. 

A common problem facing the elderly is weight loss and malnutrition. This can be caused by a number of reasons, including illness or injury. Losing weight can lead to more serious health issues, so it's important to work on gaining the lost pounds back as soon as possible. Here are some tips for how you can help your loved one get their nutrition back on track and gain healthy weight again.

What causes weight loss in older adults?

One of the main causes for weight loss in seniors is unintentional weight loss. Unintentional weight loss is when a senior loses weight quickly for no reason. It is often a symptom of declining health. As the term suggests, weight loss is not intentional and seeking medical attention is important because it can have a significant impact on their health. Early detection of underlying medical issues can save lives. Other conditions can include:

  • Poor appetite and illness. Cancer is the leading cause of weight loss in 24% to 38% of cases in the elderly.
  • Depression and anxiety disorders may be accompanied by weight loss.
  • Aging can lead to sudden weight loss due to muscle mass declining. Sudden weight loss also needs to be monitored as it can be an indicator that there is an underlying medical condition causing it.
  • Decreased daily living skills. When an older adult is no longer able to perform activities of daily living (ADLs) this can negatively affect shopping and cooking for themselves.
  • Poorly fitting dentures or not having dentures at all.
  • The side effects of certain medications can be a major cause of weight loss for seniors.

Negative effects of weight loss in older adults

The following conditions can occur due to losing weight too quickly:

Strategies to help seniors gain weight

Seniors can gain healthy weight and avoid the negative health effects of being underweight by making a few tweaks to their diet. This list is a great way of helping your loved one gain back the weight that they need to be healthy. 

  • Find soft foods that are easy to digest. For seniors with dental problems a soft food diet is the key to weight gain.
  • Add calorie boosters. If 3 meals and snacks seems too much or the weight just isn’t coming, try a calorie booster. A calorie booster is a food that is small but has a ton of calories. It is very helpful for weight gain and added calories. Make sure to read the nutrition label facts in order to determine the calories in their meals.
  • Eat frequent and smaller meals. Small meals spread out during the day will provide constant nutrients for your senior. Set up a regular meal plan schedule so a meal is less likely to be skipped.
  • Add high protein healthy snacks along with carbohydrates to their daily menu.
  • Eat foods with the right textures. Your loved one may have chewing problems because of dentures. Keep the foods soft and easy to chew.
  • Have them consume more calories than they burn: more activity has to mean more food
  • Make sure they are eating foods high in protein and calories.
  • Add cheese, nuts, and seeds to their dishes for more calories.
  • Get up and move. Adding physical activity regularly to their day will add muscle to their body. The exercise will help stimulate their appetite and the muscle will help with weight gain.
  • Eat whole grains, fresh fruit, dried fruit, vegetables, dairy, nuts and seeds and lean protein for weight gain.
  • Make foods with good, tasty flavors. As you age your taste buds become less sensitive. Flavor the foods so your senior will enjoy them.

Tips to boost a senior’s calorie intake

  • Add milk or cheese to soups
  • Replace butter with avocado to spread on their toast
  • Eat eggs, meat, poultry, fish, and nut butters
  • Strive to eat seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day
  • Eat full-fat dairy products such as milk and sour cream
  • Eat a banana a day
  • Have a snack before bed
  • Use meal replacement shakes for snacks
  • Drink high calorie, high protein shakes after a meal or snack
  • Replace their cup of coffee with a cup of full fat milk
  • Puree their food with a food processor
  • Cook foods longer to soften them
  • Add healthy fats or oils to their food
  • Eat a piece of toast with peanut butter or almond butter
  • Get active to increase their appetite
  • Try different flavors in their food to increase their appetite

How to improve a senior’s appetite

There are many reasons why a senior may be losing weight and why they may not have a good appetite. Here are some suggestions to improve their appetite and gain the extra weight they need during meal time.

  • Eat meals with friends and family members. Seniors can face depression as they age. Depression can play a part in a senior’s loss of appetite. Give them something to look forward to such as good conversations while they are eating.
  • Pack small portions with big nutrient-rich foods. Older adults typically eat smaller portioned meals. Make sure that no matter how small the meals are they are packed with good nutrients and proteins.
  • Have them eat more food when they actually have an appetite. There may be days when your loved one is actually hungry. Make the most of it and have them eat as much as they can to fill them.
  • Boost their appetite with exercise. Even if it is a limited walk, encourage them to get up and move about.
  • Have meals delivered to them. If your loved one or family member does not like the thought of cooking, find a service that will deliver meals directly to them.
  • Create a daily routine. Set an eating schedule for your loved one. Have your loved one eat snacks and meals at the same time every day. This will train their stomach to be ready for a meal and even give them something to look forward to.
  • Combat dry mouth. Certain medications can cause dry mouth which then in turn can cause a lack of appetite. Have your senior use a mouth rinse or a sugarless gum to stop the dry mouth and help bring their appetite back.

Healthy high calorie foods for the elderly

There are many foods that can help elderly people gain weight. Here is a list of several healthy high calorie foods that can become daily meals for your loved one.  If your loved one has lost weight unexpectedly, make sure to speak to their physician. 

  • Meal replacement shakes like Ensure or Boost.
  • Seven servings of fruits and veggies a day.
  • Carbohydrates such as whole wheat bread or brown rice.
  • Drink and eat your calcium and vitamin D as in white, navy or baked beans. Also, almonds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, and broccoli.
  • Eat protein. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, tofu, nuts, and seeds are excellent sources of protein.
  • Smoothies are a great source of nutrients in a small amount. They are also helpful to add fluids to their daily diet.
  • Nuts such as cashews, nut butters and seeds.
  • Avocados can be mashed, sliced, or blended to make for an easy ingredient to eat in several different meals. They are a great source of potassium.
  • Full fat yogurt. Seniors need the nutrition of whole milk, yogurt, and cheese.
  • Healthy oils. Olive oil, coconut oil, and vegetable oils can be used as a dressing or baked into many foods for healthy fat.
  • Coconut can be added to soups or baking recipes.
  • Sweet potatoes and starches. These carbs can be made into several soft variations to help promote weight gain.

Maintaining healthy weight gain and a healthy lifestyle is important for seniors, who can have an increased risk of health problems if they are underweight. It's challenging for some older people to gain weight and keep it at the right level, but not impossible. By choosing nutrient-dense foods like lean meats or avocado oil, you or your loved one will be well on your way towards achieving both physical fitness and maintaining a good body weight.

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written by:
Lydia Bruno

Lydia Bruno

Copywriter for Seniorly, with 5+ years experience in professional caregiving and senior housing
View other articles written by Lydia

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