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Why the Timing of Meals is So Important

Did you know that waiting too long between meals can increase your risk for heart disease and other chronic conditions?

According to a new report by the American Heart Association (AHA), the timing of meals may play an important role in your overall health.

Snacking and skipping meals have become more common, but this can affect obesity risk, cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure, the organization said in a recent scientific statement it released, which reviewed recent data and research on the topic.

Research shows that eating a regular breakfast lowers a person’s risk of heart disease, and previous studies have shown that men who skipped breakfast had a 27-percent increased risk of coronary heart disease or a non-fatal heart attack compared to those who didn’t skip this meal. Eating late at night also has been associated with higher heart disease and obesity risk.

In its report, the AHA suggests clearer definitions for meals, snacks and eating frequency for use in research, but its main takeaway is that irregular eating patterns don’t help people achieve optimal heart health. The organization said “intentional eating with mindful attention to the timing and frequency of eating occasions could lead to a healthier lifestyle and cardiometabolic risk factor management.” To reduce your risk for diabetes and heart disease, the AHA suggests spreading your calories throughout the day and consuming most of them earlier in the day. It urges people to avoid late-night eating and to stick to an eating schedule. Meal planning also is critical for maintaining a healthy weight, the AHA says. If you know what meals or snacks you’ll eat each day, you’re less likely to make poor food choices.

The Importance of Meal Timing for Seniors

Proper nutrition is critical for seniors for several reasons. First, your body changes with age. You may experience physical and psychological changes as you get older, including impaired hearing, smell and sense of taste, weaker bones, changes in the body’s central nervous system and energy loss. Seniors also may deal with gastrointestinal and digestive issues, such as constipation and stomach inflammation, that affect nutrition intake and the enjoyment of food.

Loss of appetite or lack of interest in eating may affect some seniors, and this can lead to malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies that put them at greater risk for illness and hospitalization.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services has created guidelines for a healthy balanced diet for Americans, which include eating between 1.5 to 2.5 cups of fruits a day; 2 to 3.5 cups of vegetables a day; 5 to 10 ounces of grains; 5 to 7 ounces of protein; 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk or adjusted amounts of other dairy products like yogurt and cheese; 5 to 8 teaspoons a day of oil, such as olive oil added during cooking; and restricting the amount of saturated fat and added sugar in your diet.

Helping Seniors Get Proper Nutrition

If your loved one is having trouble eating or doesn’t have a balanced diet, here are a few things you can do to help:

  • Positive Encouragement: Give your loved one positive encouragement and support when they say they don’t feel like eating. Talk about positive memories you have that involve food or family meals. Offer to prepare a special meal that they like or enlist their help in preparing the menu.
  • Create Reminders: Leave a note by their bedside or on the refrigerator with a reminder to stay hydrated or to eat meals at specific times. If you have time, prepare a drink for your loved one in the morning, such as tea or a bottle of water, and leave it in a place that’s visible or where they can easily access it.
  • Meal Prep: If your loved one is unable to prep meals alone, make it easy by pre-chopping vegetables, opening canned goods and putting them in plastic containers or by preparing healthy, balanced meals and placing them in ready-to-go Tupperware that your senior can heat up in the microwave. Taking some of the legwork out of food preparation can help your loved one eat a more balanced diet.
  • Consider Other Alternatives: Programs like Meals on Wheels are designed to help seniors get the nutrients they need. Contact your local senior agency or talk to your loved one’s doctors about this and other programs that can help your loved one avoid malnutrition.

The National Council on Aging also provides this helpful list of healthy eating tips for seniors.

The AHA report shows that eating a balanced diet is good for your health for several reasons. You not only feel better when you eat well, but it also may reduce your risk of chronic conditions that affect your quality of life. As you get older, eating healthy — and often — may be a challenge, but if you’re struggling with this, talk to your caregiver(s) and doctors. The issue could be your medication or other age-related changes. Caregivers also should be proactive in recognizing changes in a senior’s eating patterns. By working together, we all can empower seniors to take the steps necessary to improve and maintain their health.


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