Nutrition and Senior Health: Exploring the Latest Research

It’s estimated that around 1 in 2 older adults are either malnourished or at risk of malnourishment.1 

Thankfully, a senior’s diet can often be improved with education, mindful changes, and simple swaps. In this article, we’ve compiled some of the most relevant and up-to-date scientific research into senior nutrition.

Malnutrition: A Growing Concern for American Seniors 

A study published in 2023 demonstrated a worrying trend in senior nutrition.2 It found that despite malnutrition-related deaths in older adults declining between 1999 and 2006 and plateauing from 2006 to 2013, a sharp rise was seen between 2013 and 2020. Ultimately, malnutrition mortality rates among older adults in the US were at a historical high in 2020, with seniors over the age of 85 being one of the worst affected groups.

What Are the Benefits of Good Nutrition for Seniors?

A 2022 study3 investigating diet quality and health in older US adults found that seniors with healthier diets are at a significantly lower risk of developing both depression and limitations in activities of daily living (ADLs). The same study noted that most older Americans could benefit from improving their diet to reduce their risk of disability, depression, and chronic disease.

What Are the Most Recent Findings in Senior Nutrition?*

General Research into Senior Diets

    • A study published last month4 found that better dietary diversity positively affects the health status of older adults, as measured by an activities of daily living assessment and mental state evaluation.
    • A study published in 20245 found that a healthier diet is associated with a slower pace of aging, which is, in turn, associated with a reduced risk of both dementia and death. Therefore, it was suggested that a healthy diet can effectively reduce a senior’s risk of dementia and mortality by slowing biological aging.
    • A 2023 study6 found that following a Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals, dairy, fats, and fish is linked to a lower risk of cognitive decline in seniors. This was supported by another 2023 study7 investigating whether a plant-based diet could slow cognitive aging. This study found a potential association, but only in individuals who followed a primarily plant-based diet and had a weekly portion of fish (resulting in a Mediterranean-style diet).

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is perhaps one of the most important micronutrients for seniors, with deficiencies having been linked to common senior health issues, including cognitive decline, osteoporosis, depression, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.8

A few new studies investigating the role of vitamin D in senior nutrition have emerged in the past few years:

    • A 2023 study9 found that daily low-dose vitamin D regimens reduce fall risk in the elderly. The same study found that infrequent, large doses may increase fall risk. It also highlighted three possible strategies to achieve sufficient vitamin D levels: sun exposure, food fortification, and supplements. Supplements and food fortification were recommended in this study due to potential practical issues with getting outside often and skin cancer risks from sun exposure in the elderly. It also noted that vitamin D should be combined with calcium to reduce fracture risk. 
    • A 2024 study10 found that using vitamin D analogs can improve seniors’ quadriceps strength while reducing fall risk.

*Consult with your loved one’s physician and dietician before making dietary changes. Senior nutrition is highly individualized, and requirements vary based on age, gender, medications, and medical conditions. 

How Can Residential Assisted Living Improve a Senior’s Diet?

There are a whole host of factors that can make getting the proper nutrition difficult for aging seniors. For example, many need help with ADLs like grocery shopping, preparing and cooking food, and tidying up. This might be due to mobility issues or a health condition like Alzheimer’s. As reported by the Illinois Department on Aging1, other factors that may lead to malnutrition include:

    • Gastrointestinal disorders
    • Chronic health conditions and medications
    • Difficulties with chewing and swallowing
    • Sensory issues (e.g., changing taste buds)
    • Living alone
    • Dental issues

Many seniors’ resort to ready-to-eat meals, which were perceived as tasteless and not as healthy as ‘from-scratch’ meals by older adults in a 2022 study.11 The same study found that good taste, routines, and social settings were all important for stimulating appetite and increasing food intake. In this study, seniors mentioned the importance of having good company during mealtimes (especially dinner).

In residential assisted living, senior residents can typically access meals served daily in a communal dining area. At Silverleaf Eldercare, for example, residents enjoy meals cooked from scratch daily by our dedicated chefs, Brighton, and Kevin. Because meals are cooked fresh daily, they can cater to the preferences of individual residents while also adapting meals to suit those following specialty diets (e.g., vegetarian/vegan, diabetic, low carb). Mealtimes in our assisted living homes are always a wonderful social and sensory experience, which have both been shown to help seniors enjoy their food more.11

Want to try our delicious menu or ask questions about specialty diets and nutrition for seniors at Silverleaf Eldercare? Contact us to organize a tour of our assisted living communities today!



  1. Illinois Department on Aging. Malnutrition. Accessed April 23, 2024.
  2. Mostafa N, Sayed A, Rashad O, Baqal O. Malnutrition-related mortality trends in older adults in the United States from 1999 to 2020. BMC Med. 2023;21:421. doi:10.1186/s12916-023-03143-8.
  3. Zhao H, Andreyeva T. Diet quality and health in older Americans. Nutrients. 2022;14(6):1198. doi:10.3390/nu14061198.
  4. Zhu Y, An Q, Rao J. The effects of dietary diversity on health status among the older adults: An empirical study from China. BMC Public Health. 2024;24:674. doi:10.1186/s12889-024-18172-y.
  5. Thomas A, Ryan CP, Caspi A, et al. Diet, pace of biological aging, and risk of dementia in the Framingham Heart Study. Ann Neurol. 2024. doi:10.1002/ana.26900.
  6. Tor-Roca A, Sánchez-Pla A, Korosi A, et al. A mediterranean diet-based metabolomic score and cognitive decline in older adults: A case-control analysis nested within the three-city cohort study. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2023. doi:10.1002/mnfr.202300271.
  7. van Soest APM, van der Rest O, Witkamp RF, van der Velde N, de Groot LCPGM. The association between adherence to a plant-based diet and cognitive aging. Eur J Nutr. 2023;62(5):2053-2062. doi:10.1007/s00394-023-03130-y.
  8. Meehan M, Penckofer S. The role of vitamin D in the aging adult. J Aging Gerontol. 2014;2(2):60-71. doi:10.12974/2309-6128.2014.02.02.1.
  9. Giustina A, Bouillon R, Dawson-Hughes B, et al. Vitamin D in the older population: A consensus statement. Endocrine. 2023;79(1):31-44. doi:10.1007/s12020-022-03208-3.
  10. Xiong A, Li H, Lin M, et al. Effects of active vitamin D analogs on muscle strength and falls in elderly people: an updated meta-analysis. Front Endocrinol. 2024;15. doi:10.3389/fendo.2024.1327623.
  11. Ueland Ø, Grini IS, Schillinger I, Varela P. Opportunities and barriers for food intake in older age – a Norwegian perspective. Food Nutr Res. 2022;66. doi: 10.29219/fnr.v66.8628.