The importance of nutrition during retirement

Many factors are essential to enjoying a fulfilling retirement – staying physically active, maintaining close relationships and pursuing personal passions. However, one factor lies at the foundation, making all the rest possible: a good diet. Without one, seniors cannot fully benefit from a rewarding and engaging retirement, and are put at risk of a range of health issues.

Challenges to good nutrition
Everyone’s heard “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but that’s a mantra that’s easier said than done. Seniors in particular may face several challenges that may make it more difficult for them to follow a proper, well-rounded diet, such as reduced sense of taste, heartburn or oral health issues or dentures.

As people age, the amount of calories they need to consume each day gets lower as the amount of nutrients they need increases*, according to SeniorsBC. This makes it difficult for seniors to ensure they’re getting all the vitamins and minerals they need each day, since they’re typically eating less. That’s also why it’s all the more important that seniors choose foods rich in nutritional content.

The Canadian Food Guide recommends seniors eat seven servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Results of poor nutrition
Poor nutrition puts seniors at risk for a number of health issues that could interfere with a happy retirement. A poor diet increases the chance* of developing hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, according to McMaster Optimal Aging. Additionally, a nutrient deficiency can affect mobility, by weakening bones and muscles, and can contribute to cognitive issues.

Many Canadian seniors may not even realize their diets have room for improvement. Less than 1 per cent* of Canadians consume a diet that follows the recommendations of the Canadian Food Guide, according to Northern Health. Furthermore, one third of seniors are at risk of having poor nutrition, McMaster notes.

“The key to following a good diet throughout retirement is making healthy choices a habit.”

Important nutrients 
Seniors require greater amounts of specific nutrients to help keep the body and mind strong during retirement, such as minerals for strong bones, fiber for a healthy digestive system and protein for cognitive health, according to SeniorsBC. In addition, it’s also important to eat balanced amounts of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates, as well as lots of water to stay hydrated. Daily consumption of vital nutrients and minerals can have a significant impact. For example, fruits and vegetables contain compounds called phytonutrients, which help defend against disease, SeniorsBC explains. If every person ate five to 10 servings of fruit or vegetables each day, the cancer rate could drop by as much as 20 per cent.

The diet recommendations for senior men and women from the Canadian Food Guide are also slightly different:

Senior women should eat in one day:

  • 7 servings of fruits and vegetables
  • 3 servings of dairy
  • 2 servings of meat and its alternatives
  • 6 servings of grains

Senior men should eat in one day:

  • 7 servings of fruits and vegetables
  • 3 servings of dairy
  • 3 servings of meat and its alternatives
  • 7 servings of grains

Tips for healthy eating
The key to following a good diet throughout retirement is making healthy choices a habit by fitting them into daily routines. Keep to a schedule of three balanced meals per day, plus snacks as needed, and keep only nutritious foods in your refrigerator and cabinets so there’s less of a temptation to grab less healthy items. SeniorsBC also recommends that seniors set small, incremental goals to improve their diets, such as choosing to eat one more fruit or vegetable each day, or to eat fish once a week.

Retirement residences with dining services that promote nutritious and delicious meals during retirement make it easy for seniors to enjoy healthy diets. Learn more about Chartwell’s dining program here.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

  1. HealthLinkBC. Online:
  2. McMaster OPTIMAL AGING PORTAL. "Supporting seniors at higher risk of poor nutrition"(2016), Online:
  3. northern health. "Healthy Aging"(2013), Online: