Seemingly “healthy” seniors are vulnerable and at risk!
We live in one of the wealthiest, technologically advanced countries in the world.
Yet we’re dying from a condition associated with abject poverty and developing nations at an astronomical rate.
In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the four short years between 2018 and 2022, DEATHS in the U.S. due to this “unlikely” condition DOUBLED!1
It’s particularly common as you grow older—affecting roughly 7.3 million older adults in this country alone.
But the signs can be subtle. And it can occur in people who appear outwardly fit and healthy.
Yet, the condition is silently destroying your health from the inside, out.
Fortunately, there are FIVE steps you can take to prevent and even reverse this hidden, LETHAL threat.
A sneaky, dangerous epidemic
The condition I’m talking about is malnutrition.
It occurs when you don’t consume enough calories, protein, vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients to fuel necessary biological processes.
People in developing nations become malnourished when they don’t take in enough calories to begin with. It’s a kind of slow starvation that fails to give the body what it needs to thrive.
Whereas in wealthy countries like ours, people take in enough calories—but those calories are “empty” and don’t provide adequate nutrition. This helps explain why “normal weight” and obese people in this country can develop—and even die of—malnutrition.
Seniors are especially at risk because they typically don’t get to the store enough for fresh, whole foods—or they’re forced to rely on the poor, highly processed choices offered at long-term care facilities.
Not to mention, as we age, our ability to process, digest, and absorb the nutrients in food declines. So, we don’t get the same nutritional boost that we once did by eating the exact same meal.
Other factors that can contribute to malnutrition include diseases (like cancer or dementia), chronic inflammation, dental problems, certain medications (which restrict nutrient absorption), living alone, or poor mobility.2
Malnutrition is a serious problem among the elderly because it increases one’s risk of winding up in a hospital or long-term care facility. In fact, evidence suggests that a staggering 65 percent of people admitted into hospitals are malnourished.
In addition, malnutrition sets you up for bone and muscle loss, falling (the No. 1 cause of death and disability among older adults), frailty, a weakened immune system, infection, disease, and even death. All of which can slowly ruin your health over time.
So, let’s move on and talk about how to recognize malnutrition in yourself—or someone else…
Signs to watch out for
The signs of malnutrition can appear gradually and are often very subtle, especially if it isn’t disease related, making it difficult to spot in the early stages.2,3
I recommend being on the lookout for the following signs:
- Lack of interest in food
- Decreased ability to perform ordinary tasks
- Reduced muscle strength
- Poor concentration
- Changes in mood
- Trouble keeping warm
- Hair loss
- Fluid accumulation
Indicators of malnutrition will also show up in your blood. That’s why I always check my older patients for adequate levels of B6, B12, folic acid, vitamin D, red blood cells, magnesium, potassium, copper, and zinc. (Make sure to ask your doctor for these blood tests and to discuss the results with you, especially if any results come in low.)
Of course, unexpected or unintended weight loss is another clear sign that something is OFF in your body. If you don’t have a scale at home—look for suddenly loose-fitting rings (they might start rolling off your fingers) or clothing (that just won’t stay in place!).
Six easy ways to squash malnutrition risk
Heading off malnutrition starts by improving the quality of your diet. And this is actually quite easy to do… all it takes is six simple steps!
First and foremost, cut out the packaged, processed foods—which contain anti-nutrients that actually REMOVE nutrients from your body, rather than provide them to you.
Instead, fill your plate with nutrient-dense, whole foods—including grass-fed and -finished meat, organic poultry, wild-caught fish and seafood, fresh produce, olives, avocados, eggs, and nuts.
Of course, you’ll want to pay close attention to your protein intake—as most seniors don’t eat enough.
I recommend eating your body weight in grams of protein on the days you’re not exercising. And on the days that you DO exercise (which, hopefully, is more often than not), eat 1.5 times your body weight in grams of protein. So, for example, a 200-lb man should eat 200 grams of protein on non-workout days… and 300 grams of protein on workout days.
The easiest way to hit these targets is to include protein with every meal. (See the sidebar on page 7 for a protein-rich breakfast to try!) You can also add a daily whey protein shake to your regimen, which will provide you with 20 or more grams of protein.
When choosing a whey protein product, look for one that has eight grams of carbs or less per serving. Then, only ever mix it with plain water. If you like a thicker consistency, add some ice cubes and mix it up in a blender. You can even add a tablespoon of macadamia nut oil for a healthy boost of monounsaturated fatty acids. (This little trick will also keep you fuller, longer.)
For more on the benefits of whey protein, just enter “whey” in the search box on my website, www.DrPescatore.com.
In addition to upping your protein, make sure to UP your vegetable intake, too. Again, I recommend enjoying some at every meal. (Yes, that means veggies at breakfast too!) If you do this, you won’t ever find yourself at risk of becoming deficient in key vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients.
Herbs and spices also help make meal times more exciting… and nutritious. In fact, just like leafy greens, they’re packed with large amounts of vitamins A, C, and K. Plus, many contain polyphenols, which are powerful plant compounds that reduce inflammation and free radicals.
I suggest trying a new herb or spice each day or each week to add flavor and nutrition to your cooking.
If you need some inspiration for using these flavorful ingredients, you can check out my new cooking show
on Instagram (@DrFredNYC) and YouTube (“The Dr. Fred Show”) called Cooking with Dr. Fred. You can
also find dozens of healthy, low-carb recipes for summer in my book The A-List Diet, found on my website,
And finally, I should mention that nutritional supplements can play a role in helping you achieve better nutritional status. Just keep in mind that supplements can’t ever replace a good diet. So, always begin with a healthy, balanced diet. Then, after analyzing the results from your bloodwork, talk to your doctor about adding on from there with supplements. (After all, a supplement is intended, quite literally, to “supplement” your diet.)
At the end of the day, following these six sensible steps will protect you and your loved ones from ever developing the entirely avoidable condition of malnutrition. And it will set you up for a long, healthy, independent, and strong life.
Start your day off with a sizzling skillet!
A lot of people ask me how to get more protein in their breakfasts, without always eating eggs. My answer is to think outside the box. And this chicken breakfast skillet fits the bill! It adds plenty of protein, healthy fats, veggies, and spices—so it’s packed with nutrition and flavor. Even better, it’s not just another boring breakfast of scrambled eggs.
Chicken Breakfast Skillet (Serves 1)
1 teaspoon macadamia nut oil
1 chicken sausage link, diced
1/2 cup diced shiitake mushrooms
1/3 cup diced orange bell pepper
1/2 cup diced cipollini onion
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and sauté until the fat from the sausage is rendered, about 10 minutes.
Add the mushrooms, orange bell pepper, onion, garlic powder, paprika, and cayenne, and stir to combine.
Make three wells in the mixture, crack an egg into each one, and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for five to 10 minutes, depending on how you like your yolk. Serve.
NEWS BRIEF: Put more “PURPLE” on your plate (weight and blood sugar benefits!)
Set yourself a goal this summer: Get yourself to the farmer’s market and fill your bag with all things purple… especially if you struggle with your weight or blood sugar.
A new study found that eating more purple vegetables can reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. These vegetables contain loads of anthocyanins—special plant compounds with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Research also links them to improvements in energy metabolism, digestion, gut microbiota, and inflammation.
Fruits and vegetables high in anthocyanins include:
Purple sweet potatoes
Mother Nature really does provide us with all the tools we need to stay lean and healthy. Unfortunately, most Americans eat less than one cup of fruit and less than two cups of vegetables a day.
And that’s a real shame. After all, as I’m always preaching, your overall health depends on eating whole, fresh, real foods.
So, here’s a simple trick for adding more purple to your plate. And no, it doesn’t involve any complicated meal planning…
Just add some seasonal berries to your breakfast, toss some thinly sliced purple cabbage into your lunchtime salad, or bake some eggplant parmesan for dinner. All options will add some beautiful color and satisfying crunch to your table—along with a hefty dose of nutrition!
To a healthier you,
Fred Pescatore, M.D.
1. “The rate of older Californians dying of malnutrition has accelerated.” News Medical, 4/13/2023. (news-medical.net/news/20230413/The-rate-of-older-Californians-dying-of-malnutrition-has-accelerated.aspx)
2. “What to Know About Malnutrition in Older Adults.” WebMD, 3/18/21. (webmd.com/healthy-aging/what-to-know-about-malnutrition-in-older-adults)
3. “Symptoms: Malnutrition.” NHS, accessed 4/16/23. (nhs.uk/conditions/malnutrition/symptoms/)