A look at senior nutrition

Published On: Dec 27 2012 08:21:30 AM PST
Breast Cancer Survivor Eating Healthy Food

By Dianna Sinovic, Pure Matters

Not everyone's nutrition needs are identical. As we age, our bodies and metabolism change. Although older adults still need plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fiber, they need to add or subtract a few things from the diet they followed earlier in life.

Many older adults have a decreased sense of taste and decreased absorption. They need to make sure they get enough water and nutrients, even if they must take supplements to get them.

Although we all should drink eight glasses of water a day, it's critical for older adults to factor in water because they have decreased kidney function and may not feel thirsty.

Adequate water intake helps avoid constipation. Older adults' digestive tracts don't work as effectively as they once did, making constipation more likely, and many older adults have dental problems that keep them from eating as much fiber as they need. Fiber also helps prevent constipation.

Consider supplements

Another possible addition to an older adult's diet is a vitamin and mineral supplement. Older adults often don't get enough calcium or vitamin D in their diet, and a lack of either of those can lead to bone loss and osteoporosis. Vitamin B12 is another nutrient that's often found lacking in older adults. As the body ages, it becomes less able to absorb B12 from foods. B12 is critical for healthy nerve and red blood cells. Vitamin B12 supplements may be taken as a pill, an injection, or a gel applied to the inside of the nose.

You should discuss the issue of supplements with your health care provider. Older adults already purchase more supplements than other age groups. Unfortunately, false advertising leads them to believe that supplements will stop or curb the aging process.

Recent research indicates that many problems associated with the aging process can be slowed with a good diet. So the benefits associated with consuming a balanced, nutrient-rich diet are endless.

Other aspects of older nutrition

One good way to find out what you need in daily nutrition is to visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture's website My Pyramid. The site asks for your age, gender, and level of physical activity to determine your daily caloric needs.

My Pyramid, based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the USDA, encourages people to eat a suggested amount from five major food groups each day. If you can't do that, at least try to eat something from each group each day. Choose lower-fat foods and include vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

These are suggested amounts from the Dietary Guidelines:

Other tips for good nutrition:

Fruits and vegetables are a real plus for seniors, because they are lower in calories than other foods, yet high in nutrients, Fruit is much healthier for dessert than cookies or cake--yet many older adults indulge their sweet tooth with sugary treats rather than fresh fruit.

When eating is a problem

Some older adults have trouble getting adequate nutrition because of health problems or financial difficulties. If these are problems that affect you, there are steps you can take to ease them.

If you have trouble chewing, you might not be able to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, or meat. Instead, you might try the following ideas, from the FDA:

If certain foods give you gas, try these alternatives:

If you can't shop or cook for yourself, you can make other arrangements. Some groceries will deliver food at no charge; others charge a fee. A family member, friend, or church or synagogue group may be able to help with shopping. A senior citizen program in your area may deliver meals. You can use the microwave to cook already-prepared meals. You might consider moving to a place where meals are prepared for you--either with a family member or a senior citizens' center. Eating with other people also is a good way to encourage your appetite; eating alone can be lonely.

If money is a problem, here are some suggestions from the FDA:

Food safety

No matter what your age, it's important to treat food carefully to avoid foodborne illness. As you age, your sense of taste or smell may not always be able to tell you when a food is no longer fit to eat--when milk has soured or meat has spoiled. Your senses may be affected by medication that you take or by illness.

Your stomach also produces less acid. Stomach acid is a natural defense against bacteria you might have eaten. Your immune system also may not be as strong as it once was, making it more difficult to fight bacteria.

Here are food safety tips from the FDA: