Dietitian explaining the best nutritional drinks for seniors to a senior woman

Nutritional Drinks for Seniors: What To Look for & What To Avoid

As we age, the body’s needs and abilities change dramatically. Nutritional drinks for seniors can play an important role in elderly care – whether you’re trying to improve your own health or care for the health of a loved one.

The best nutrition drink for seniors can help meet nutritional needs more quickly and easily. The problem? Not all nutritional drinks for seniors are created equal, and there are a few things you need to avoid when shopping for them.

But why do nutrition drinks help seniors in the first place? Let’s take a look at the importance of nutritional drinks for seniors before discussing the best types of drinks – and which to avoid. 

How can nutritional drinks for seniors help with changing health needs?

Changing needs and abilities as you age are normal but also provide unexpected challenges. One of these is nutrition. 

Nutritional needs increase in seniors because the body is slower and less effective at self-repair. This means that your body needs more energy and more “materials” to do the same job.

Unfortunately, our ability to eat nutritious foods can decrease due to a variety of factors. The senses of taste and smell slowly decline as we age, making food in general less appetizing. 

If you are sick or healing from an injury, your appetite might be impacted from this, as well. This can include dealing with stomach ulcers, tooth or mouth pain, thyroid problems, or dysphagia

Medical nutrition compensates for this by incorporating nutrition more easily into daily diets. Nutritional drinks for seniors are the most commonly-used tool to accomplish this. They come in a variety of flavors and delivery methods, and can help seniors improve their health in minutes.

But before we dive into the benefits of nutritional drinks for seniors, including what to look for when choosing one, let’s take a look at some of the problems subpar drinks can cause. 

What problems can nutritional drinks cause for seniors?

Unfortunately, nutritional drinks can vary greatly in quality. Low-quality drinks can do more harm than good, so understanding what to steer clear of is crucial when choosing the best nutrition drink for seniors in your care (including yourself!).

High blood sugar and diabetes 

Many nutritional drinks for seniors have an extremely high sugar content. (They aren’t referred to as nutritional “shakes” for nothing.) The high sugar content can make drinks taste better, even to seniors with a reduced sense of taste or smell, but it’s a double-edged sword. 

The high sugar content can also lead seniors to develop high blood sugar problems, including diabetes. This problem only increases if you’re consuming more than one nutritional drink on a daily basis, which we’ll talk more about in a moment. 

What to avoid: Drinks with more than 12 grams of sugar.

What to look for: Drinks that have less than six grams (and ideally zero grams) of sugar.

Over-reliance and further nutritional problems

Nutritional drinks for seniors are an easy way to get calories and nutrients. In fact, sometimes nutritional drinks are a little too easy. For some people, nutritional drinks can move from a bonus to a staple – and cause problems.

No nutritional drink can provide all the necessary micronutrients, fiber, and antioxidants seniors need. This means that nutritional drinks can increase nutritional problems, rather than support healing. 

Over-reliance can also make loss of appetite for “real” food more intense, since the drinks are now the norm.

What to avoid: Replacing more than one meal a day with a nutritional drink.

What to look for: Nutritional drinks, powders, or concentrates that can be easily incorporated into food for better overall nutrition.

Adverse reactions with medication

Seniors often take a number of daily supplements and prescription medications. There’s usually nothing wrong with nutritional drinks for seniors in addition to these. However, checking with a doctor before including any new supplement is critical. 

Even the best nutritional drink for seniors may have ingredients that interact poorly with existing prescription medication. In the best case scenario, this reduces the effectiveness of the medication. At worst, it can mean severe reactions with debilitating consequences. 

What to avoid: Adding or taking away any existing supplement or medication without talking to a doctor first.

What to look for: Medical-grade supplements without added ingredients. Other specifics should be determined by your doctor or pharmacist.

Digestive trouble

Lactose intolerance can worsen or even develop as you age. Unfortunately, many nutritional drinks for seniors are milk-based. Lactose intolerance can cause digestive distress. Worse, it can impact the ability of your body to absorb the nutrients in your drink. 

Even if you choose a drink that isn’t milk-based, you’ll need to make extra effort to make up for the missing fiber in your diet. Increased fiber intake is important for older adults, as it can help offset other age-related concerns like constipation, heart disease, and high cholesterol.

What to avoid: Milk-based nutritional drinks.

What to look for: Drinks with 7 grams or more of fiber, or drinks that can be incorporated into high-fiber foods like hot cereal.

Social isolation

Eating is an important social activity. Conversation around the dinner table allows seniors to interact with their caretakers and others around them, and prompts a change of scenery for those with mobility challenges.

Mental health problems like dementia and depression skyrocket when seniors are isolated. 

Nutritional drinks for seniors can cause seniors to skip out on mealtimes, which are important social times. This is especially true when someone is over-reliant on nutrition drinks or already struggling with mental health conditions. 

What to avoid: Drinking nutritional drinks in place of meals. Instead, have them fill the place of snacks or incorporate them into a meal.

What to look for: Nutritional drinks that can easily be incorporated into meals, or are light enough to encourage seniors to eat a small serving of food at mealtimes, as well.

What benefits can nutritional drinks have for seniors?

The risks of nutrition drinks are easily managed, and the benefits are well-worth the effort. High-quality nutritional drinks for seniors can help to manage a variety of health and wellness conditions. 

To start with, look for ingredients that are highly digestible, like collagen peptides, and provide a complete essential amino acid profile. 

The best nutrition drink for seniors will provide a variety of benefits. Your specific needs should influence your choice of nutrition drink, since not everyone has the same needs. Some people might struggle more heavily with slow-healing wounds, while others need support for muscle loss. 

Speaking with your healthcare team about your unique situation can help you determine what kind of nutrition drink is best for you or your loved one. 

Slowing or reversing weight loss

Some amount of weight loss is to be expected with age, but rapid weight loss can be dangerous to your health at large. Slowing or reversing weight loss is one of the reasons people start incorporating nutritional drinks for seniors into their diet. 

Higher protein intake can slow or reverse unhealthy weight loss in seniors. This is especially true when the protein supplement is added to healthy carbohydrates like fruit smoothies, chia pudding, or hot cereal. 

Hair loss is another common side effect of age, especially when coupled with sudden weight loss. Many people take liquid collagen for hair growth, but it can also help seniors manage healthy weight as part of their nutritional plan.

What to look for: Drinks that have healthy sources of carbohydrates or can be easily incorporated into one.

What to avoid: Low-calorie or low-fat nutritional drinks, as these can deprive seniors of much-needed nutrients.

Slowing muscle loss

Muscle loss is another problem that’s often written off as being “part of aging”, but can still be managed and improved. Again, look for nutritional drinks for seniors that are high in protein. High-protein intake can do the same thing for seniors that it does for bodybuilders – build muscle! 

As a source of protein, collagen peptides benefits include their amino acid profile, which is ideal for building and repairing tissue throughout the body – especially in muscles. This is because muscles are as much as 10% collagen by dry weight

As you age, natural collagen production slows significantly, contributing to muscle loss and weakness. Giving your body plenty of this key building block can help slow or reverse this process. 

While other sources of protein can also help slow muscle loss, they often do so less effectively. Whey protein, in particular, can cause problems in seniors with lactose sensitivity. 

What to look for: A nutrition drink high in protein to combat muscle loss.

What to avoid: Low-protein, high carbohydrate drinks will help seniors gain weight without promoting healthy muscles.

Higher energy levels

Great nutrition makes you feel better, plain and simple. Energy dysregulation is strongly linked to poor nutrition in seniors. This is, of course, partly due to the loss of appetite that seniors struggle with, as well as limited ability to incorporate regular exercise. 

Nutritional drinks for seniors that include taurine as an ingredient can be especially energy-boosting. You may recognize taurine from its career as a main ingredient in the energy drink RedBull. 

Research has found that taurine shouldn’t be kept in unhealthy, high-caffeine energy drinks packed with sugar. 

As a therapeutic agent, taurine can support health problems common in seniors. Heart failure, stroke-like symptoms, and inflammatory diseases like arthritis all respond positively to taurine, as well as providing a boost in natural energy levels.

What to look for: Taurine and a balanced nutrient profile can boost energy levels in seniors.

What to avoid: Drinks that have a high added sugar content will contribute to blood sugar spikes and crashes, leading to feeling more tired overall.

Reliable nutrition anytime, anywhere

While over-reliance on nutritional drinks for seniors can cause problems, the reliability of these drinks is one of their greatest assets. High-pain days can make cooking difficult for seniors, and further decrease their appetite for normal food. 

Doctors’ appointments, especially if you’re traveling to see a specialist, makes on-the-go snacks a must. 

The consistency of pre-made foods and supplements like nutrition drinks can make caring for yourself or your loved one easier during difficult times. There’s no worrying about difficult chewing or swallowing food, and the best nutrition drink for seniors will travel well so there are no spacial restrictions.

What to look for: Travel-friendly nutrition drinks in flavors you (or your loved one) enjoy.

What to avoid: Using bulk containers of powder that require preparation.

Promoting wound healing and supporting bone health

From conditions like pressure ulcers to wounds after joint replacement surgeries, seniors deal with more wounds than most. Looking for a nutritional drink for seniors that includes collagen can help promote wound healing.

But wounds aren’t the only cause of pain. Bone density can contribute to more easily broken bones, and osteoarthritis causes joint pain – especially in hips and knees. 

When it comes to knee pain, arthritis relief is hard to find. Collagen can help here, too. Where muscles are 10% collagen by dry weight, the ligaments, tendons, and cartilage that make up your joints can be as much as 80% collagen!

Collagen peptides have also been shown to improve bone mineral density, leading to stronger bones and fewer breakages. When you look for a nutritional drink that includes collagen, you can support all these vital parts of your body with one simple step. 

What to look for: Collagen!

What to avoid: Ingredients that contribute to joint inflammation, such as sugar.

Finding the best nutrition drink for seniors

Nutritional drinks for seniors can be a key part of managing chronic conditions that come as a result of age. You’ll need to manage how frequently you drink them, monitor their interaction with prescription medication, and ensure they don’t lead to social isolation.

One of the best ways to do this is by choosing drinks that don’t feel too dense or heavy, such as dairy-based nutritional drinks. Instead, opt for something you can drink as part of your usual supplement regimen, so it doesn’t seem tempting to replace all your meals with it. 

Or, choose powders or liquid supplements that you can incorporate into high-fiber, nutritious meals and snacks like smoothies, puddings, and cereals.  

Supplements and nutritional drinks for seniors that meet these needs aren’t difficult to find. 

If you’re looking for the very best supplement for nutritional drinks, a medical-grade, hydrolyzed collagen supplement may be the best bet. It is trusted by doctors across the nation, is easily digestible, and helps promote healthy muscles, bones, and ligaments – so seniors can feel their very best.