Good Nutrition Helps Seniors Manage Chronic Health Conditions

March is National Nutrition Month. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) offers information on healthy eating when a senior is living with a health challenge.

Senior couple with nutritious veggies

For people with certain chronic conditions, proper nutrition is more than just a good idea. It's an essential part of managing many health problems, such as:


Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to use or make enough insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar in the body. People with diabetes must carefully plan the amount and types of foods they eat and the timing of meals and snacks, in order to avoid high levels of sugar in the blood. High blood sugar levels can lead to other problems, including nerve damage, eye damage, kidney failure, heart disease, and problems with blood flow. Often, with some types of diabetes, people also must control their cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight.

Heart disease

Heart disease can cause the body to burn more calories than normal, resulting in weight loss. Many people who are being treated for heart disease find it difficult to eat enough food to meet their needs, and their bodies may burn muscle and fat for energy. When people with heart disease lose weight and have poor nutrition, their bodies cannot handle their treatment as well.

High blood pressure

For people with high blood pressure, it's important to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and less salt and fat. Medications and diet restrictions can cause nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive problems. These conditions can sometimes make it difficult to eat enough food to meet nutritional needs.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

COPD is a group of lung diseases that cause the airways of the lungs to become inflamed and narrowed. People with COPD often experience shortness of breath, which can make preparing and eating meals a challenge. In addition, eating foods high in carbohydrates may make breathing difficult for people with COPD because these foods produce more carbon dioxide when broken down than proteins or fats. To help people with COPD get the energy they need, carbohydrates may be replaced with beneficial fats, such as those found in olive, canola or soybean oils.


Osteoporosis, a decline in the thickness of the bones because of age or illness, increases the risk that a bone will break. Taking more calcium to strengthen the bones may reduce this risk. Vitamin D helps the body use calcium, while minerals such as phosphorus and magnesium work together with calcium to improve bone strength.


The medical name for loss of muscle as you get older is sarcopenia. Sarcopenia can make elderly people lose strength and the ability to get around, which increases their risk of falling. Older people with sarcopenia may need others to help them with everyday activities, such as standing up or opening a door. Physical activity is needed to help rebuild and maintain muscle. Getting the right amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals is also important to help people with sarcopenia stay strong.

The value of therapeutic nutrition

Everyone should try to eat a balanced diet to help maintain good overall health, regardless of whether they have a chronic health problem. However, therapeutic nutrition is different from simply choosing healthy foods. It provides important nutrients that can help people manage their chronic conditions. You may use therapeutic nutrition in addition to regular meals or choose to occasionally replace some foods.

Some people use therapeutic nutrition to help them heal faster, stay stronger in the face of illness, and respond better to medical care, such as chemotherapy and surgery. Talk to a health care professional to make sure therapeutic nutrition is right for you.

Learn More

Visit the NCOA website to learn more about the importance of nutrition in managing chronic illnesses, the role of therapeutic nutrition, and how the NCOA helps.

Source: The National Council on Aging (NCOA), a respected national leader and trusted partner to help people aged 60+ meet the challenges of aging. Their mission is to improve the lives of millions of older adults, especially those who are struggling. Through innovative community programs and services, online help, and advocacy, NCOA is partnering with nonprofit organizations, government, and business to improve the health and economic security of 10 million older adults by 2020.