Pros and Cons of Nutritional Supplement Drinks for Older Adults

Sophie Bebeau

Written by Sophie Bebeau on Mon Nov 28 2022.

Many older adults and caregivers may consider adding a nutritional supplement drink to their diets to help curb weight loss. Still, they may not be the right solution for every situation. Below we’ve developed a guide to help you learn more about nutritional supplement drinks before you add them to your diet or that of a loved one.

Loss of appetite and weight loss can be expected as we age. Twenty-five percent of older adults experience weight loss. Still, it isn't considered a "normal" part of aging, so it’s important to bring it up with a doctor if you or a loved one experience unintended weight loss or lack of appetite. 

Sometimes, nutritional supplement drinks, commonly called "meal replacement drinks," are recommended to help the user gain or maintain their weight. These drinks are high-calorie and usually packed with various vitamins and minerals and sometimes protein. While helpful, it’s a common misconception that nutritional supplement drinks are a complete source of nutrition. In addition, not all of these drinks have the same quality or ingredients.

Many older adults and caregivers may consider adding a nutritional supplement drink to their diets to help curb weight loss. Still, they may not be the right solution for every situation. Below we’ve developed a guide to help you learn more about nutritional supplement drinks before you add them to your diet or that of a loved one. 

Weight loss in aging adults

There are many different causes of weight loss in aging adults, and it's okay to feel discouraged if you can't pinpoint the exact reason. Unfortunately, around 28% of older adults experiencing weight loss will never identify the cause. That's why it is crucial to consult a doctor to detect any underlying causes.

Some of the most common reasons for weight loss in the elderly include:

  • Medication side effects, including dry mouth, trouble swallowing, and altered taste and smell

  • Difficulty planning or making meals

  • Poorly fitted dentures

  • Mobility challenges causing loss of muscle

  • Depression

  • Social isolation

  • Alzheimer's or dementia

  • Digestive issues

  • Diabetes

  • Thyroid disorders

Decreasing body weight and lack of nutrition can increase the chances of falls, broken bones, and other health conditions and even raise mortality rates. 

Nutritional needs of older adults

When we think of a healthy diet, we usually think of a low-sugar, low-fat, and low-calorie diet. But those criteria aren't always beneficial for older adults. Above all, a balanced diet with lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and minimal sugar is the way to go. Still, an older adult struggling with weight loss shouldn't restrict calories or fat intake as they might have earlier in life.

Again, you should always speak to your doctor if you have dietary concerns, but if you or a loved one is struggling with weight loss later in life, it’s OK to indulge a bit! Sometimes a mindset shift in how we eat is needed as we age. Remember, our bodies and nutritional needs change with age. So if your body needs extra calories, enjoy that big bowl of ice cream!

Tips for encouraging eating

As nutritional needs and lifestyle changes occur later in life, some older adults may struggle to maintain the same eating habits as they used to. Here are some tips for maintaining a healthy appetite.

Eat what you like!

It may seem obvious, but food isn't just nutritional fuel for the body; it's also one of life's pleasures! So don't deny yourself or your loved one of favorite foods; try to incorporate enjoyable food into everyday life. (All in moderation, of course!)

Eat throughout the day.

Many adults find it difficult to eat big meals as they age. Instead of focusing on three main meals, try smaller meals and snacks throughout the day.

Keep the snack cupboard stocked.

Part of eating throughout the day means you need a well-stocked snack cupboard! Make sure to keep high-calorie, easy snacks around the house, like cheese, nuts, fruit, yogurt, popcorn, and trail mix.

Try a meal delivery service.

Consider ordering from a meal delivery service. Many different services are available, and most are customizable to fit any dietary need. Some also involve little to no cooking.

Stay active.

Exercise has more benefits than we can count and is essential for healthy aging. One of the great benefits of exercise is that it increases appetite. You or your loved one will have to take in extra calories to offset the ones burned through exercise. Still, light, regular exercise can encourage appetite and can be helpful to those experiencing unexplained weight loss.

Pros & Cons of nutritional supplement drinks

A nutritional supplement drink may be right for you or a loved one if other options haven’t helped stimulate appetite or added needed pounds. If you're considering adding a nutritional supplement to your diet or the diet of a loved one, read the pros and cons below, and consult with a doctor first to help determine what type of drink would be best.

Prevents weight loss

Of course, the most obvious pro of a supplement drink is the prevention of weight loss, which is why most people consider them in the first place. If other methods of increasing weight are not working, then a nutritional supplement drink added to your daily diet or the diet of a loved one can be a helpful tool. These drinks can benefit seniors struggling to eat enough due to low appetite or health issues. They can often be quicker, easier, and more palatable than a full meal.

Increased protein

Protein is a fundamental nutritional building block. When we don't get enough of it, our bodies lose muscle mass and have less energy.

Protein is especially necessary for maintaining healthy muscles and bones as we age, and it’s recommended that adults increase their protein intake after age 65. Adults over 65 should try and get about 65 to 85 grams of protein each day, depending on weight.

Nutritional supplement drinks with added protein are a great way to get enough protein to stay healthy each day. However, remember to read the labels carefully. Not all nutritional supplement drinks have the recommended amount of protein.

Convenience

We know that anything that adds extra convenience to a caregiver's day-to-day life is a gift. Adding a nutritional drink to the diet of your loved one is a simple, easy, and effective way to ensure they get the extra boost of nutrition they need. 

And if you're a senior who finds it challenging to prepare meals or find foods you enjoy eating, a nutritional drink is a simple, stress-free way to get needed calories and vitamins.

Cons of nutritional supplement drinks

High sugar

The biggest drawback of most nutritional supplement drinks is their high sugar content. Older adults should have no more than 25 grams or six teaspoons of sugar daily for women and no more than 36 grams or nine teaspoons for men. High sugar intake can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and oral health problems.

Unfortunately, many nutritional supplement drinks far exceed these daily sugar recommendations. Therefore, it's important to carefully read the label before choosing a supplement drink, as the dangers of high sugar intake outweigh any of the benefits gained.

Digestive problems

Digestive problems often increase as we age, which can be exacerbated by nutritional supplement drinks. But, again, it's important to review the ingredient list before adding these drinks to a diet, as some ingredients may cause issues like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, flatulence, or nausea.

Many different types of supplement drinks are available to meet different dietary needs. Carefully consider the options and talk to a doctor for the best recommendation.

Medication interactions

Most nutritional supplement drinks have a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, some of which can interact negatively with medications. Fifty-four percent of aging adults take four or more prescription drugs daily, so it's important to know what interactions may occur.

For example, blood thinners are a common medication for many seniors, and many supplement drinks have a high amount of Vitamin K. A high amount of Vitamin K in the diet can decrease the efficiency of blood thinners and lead to serious complications.

Always check with your doctor about possible medication interactions before you add a nutritional supplement drink to your diet.

Low-quality nutrition

It's a common misconception that nutritional supplement drinks are an excellent nutritional replacement for regular meals. And calling them "meal replacement drinks" certainly doesn't help! While a supplement drink can help with weight loss and be one of the building blocks of a healthy diet, they are not a substitute for a well-rounded diet made up of real food. 

Be aware of the labels, too. More does not always mean better. Just because a supplement drink has many vitamins and minerals

does not mean it's healthy. There are still many other nutritional benefits that whole foods provide that aren’t found in supplement drinks.

How to choose a nutritional supplement drink

Before choosing a nutritional supplement drink, talk to your doctor about why you think you need to add one to your diet or t

he diet of a loved one. It's important first to rule out underlying health conditions causing weight loss and address other problems contributing to a loss of appetite. 

If your doctor agrees that a nutritional supplement drink may be right for you, get their recommendations based on your or your loved one's dietary needs.

After that, try a few different drinks to find the one that you or your loved one like the best! There are a lot of options out there with different flavors and textures, so you may need to experiment before you find the one you enjoy most.

And remember, nutritional supplements drinks are just that - supplements. Despite commonly being referred to as "meal replacement drinks," they are not meant to replace all meals and will not meet all of a person's nutritional needs. 

It's okay to use these drinks to replace a single meal or drink as a snack, but real, whole food will always be the best way to stay healthy.

Use the "Shop Now" button to search through our offerings of nutritional drinks.

Need more information?

Finding a nutritional supplement drink that's right for your needs or that of a loved one can be challenging. Carewell is here to help. If you need help finding the perfect product, talk to one of our caregiving specialists today. Call 855-855-1666. We’re here to support you, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Sophie Bebeau
Sophie Bebeau

Sophie Bebeau is a writer, graphic designer, poet, and multidisciplinary artist living in Green Bay, Wisconsin. When she’s not writing or making things for the internet, she can be found cross-stitching, writing poetry, and snuggling on the couch with a cup of tea and her husband, son, and dog, Buttercup.