Are Nutritional Drinks and Protein Shakes Good for Seniors?

Medicare Benefits Solutions
Mar 2, 2022

In a perfect world, meal prep and planning with nutrient-rich ingredients would provide all the calories, vitamins, and minerals you need to stay strong and healthy. Unfortunately, eating a balanced diet isn’t always easy, especially if you experience a loss of appetite or the inability to eat a variety of foods.

Seniors can be especially vulnerable to issues caused by poor nutrition, but you may wonder if nutritional drinks or shakes can offer the solution you need.

Nutritional Supplement Drinks for Seniors

Seniors may experience a loss of appetite for various reasons, including certain health conditions, difficulty preparing food, and the cost of buying fresh ingredients. PubMed Central published a study regarding appetite decline in older people.

The study mentioned how physiological changes occur as a result of aging which can impair your appetite. This may include alterations to the digestive system and a decreased need for energy along with a diminished sense of smell, taste and vision. 

When older adults have difficulty getting enough calories in their diet, one option is to turn to meal supplement drinks. You can find a variety of protein shakes and meal replacement drinks at your local health food or grocery store. Many meal delivery services also have different superfood shakes, smoothies, and other nutritional drinks to choose from.

Are Protein Supplements a Good Option for Seniors?

A review of protein supplements in the elderly published in the National Library of Medicine’s Nutrient Journal, referred to “the so-called ‘anorexia of aging.” The primary markers of undernourished older people are low body weight, reduced muscle mass and strength, small appetite and food intake, and frailty. Of particular concern is dietary protein intake because conditions associated with muscle breakdown include obstructive airways, heart disease, renal failure, cancer and arthritis.

The Nutrients review concluded that many seniors do not meet their daily protein requirements through food and are likely to benefit from protein supplements. “Nutritional supplements, including pure-protein or protein-enriched drinks are increasingly used by older people to maintain body weight and nutrition.”

What are the Best Nutritional Drinks and Smoothies for Seniors?

Overall, the top nutritional drinks include Boost, Bullet Proof, Glucerna, Ensure and Carnation Breakfast. But the choice of nutritional supplement drinks for elderly people should depend on what you are hoping to achieve and what may be recommended by your doctor.

The goal of nutrient drinks for seniors may be to add calories, address a specific ailment, or add nutrition within specific dietary restrictions. For example, if you are looking for a nutritional drink free of soy and gluten, try 310 Shake, a favorite highlighted in the 2022 Sports Illustrated review.

Ensure is gluten-free and includes a line of shakes developed for support before and after surgery. Bob’s Red Mill makes a dairy-free pea protein powder. People on a vegan diet may like Evolve, Orgain or Ripple. Boost offers products targeted at adults aged 50 and older.

Some food supplement drinks serve specific health conditions. Glucerna, Boost Glucose Control and Boost Glucose Control High Protein are designed for people who have diabetes. Jevity and Osmolite are intended for people with kidney failure, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or cancer. 

Pros and Cons of Meal Supplement Drinks

Before reaching for the best nutritional drink for seniors, consider the pros and cons of meal replacement drinks.

Pros of nutritional drinks for seniors

  • Typically convenient and easy to consume
  • Feeling of fullness can improve satiety
  • May prevent malnutrition and protein deficiency
  • Can help to avoid unintentional weight loss
  • Generally, low cost when compared to some high-protein foods

Cons of nutritional drinks for seniors

  • Possible medication interactions
  • High sugar content
  • A misconception that supplement drinks replace all nutrient and vitamin needs
  • Limited options for people that need to eliminate components like gluten and dairy
  • Not a low-calorie food, so you risk gaining weight if you eat full meals too

Tips to Increase Nutrition Intake

Food supplement drinks can be a good solution for increasing your dietary intake, but you may also want to try strategies that make food more appealing. For example, nutritionists stress the importance of mindful eating to optimize nutrition value. The Mayo Clinic offers ideas as well:

  • Experiment with eating small amounts but more frequently as it may be easier than big meals.
  • Eat at set times during the day, so you don’t rely on the sense of hunger.
  • When you are hungry, be sure to eat a full meal, for example, a hearty breakfast.
  • Try avoiding liquids within a half-hour of meals, before and after, to avoid feeling full from beverages.
  • Create an environment conducive to eating, like dining with proper table settings or soft music in the background.
  • Add variety to your meals, remembering that presentation can make food more appealing.
  • Enjoy healthy snacks.

In addition to protein drink supplements, be sure to include food sources of protein in your diet like cheese, beans, lentils, eggs, fish, chicken, nuts, milk, yogurt and quinoa.

Meal Supplement Drinks

Although eating a balanced diet is the ideal way to ensure your nutritional intake, in some cases, it may be easier to get nutrition through a meal replacement drink. Health care professionals often suggest nutritional drinks when you don’t feel like eating meals, knowing that maintaining calorie and fluid levels is essential. For example, cancer or cancer treatments can influence your appetite, and a nutrient drink offers a generous amount of calories with minimal preparation.

Some people take multivitamins too. As a precaution, it’s a good idea to discuss vitamins and supplements with your doctor to avoid potential interaction with your medications and treatments.

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