Just as our bodies change as we age, so do our nutritional requirements. Some foods become more important for our health because they supply adequate vitamins and minerals needed for healthy immune system.
What to Eat & What Not to Eat
The elderly are one age group in particular that has special dietary needs. The importance of staying in good shape increases as one gets older since the risk of developing life-threatening diseases rises over time. As the density of a person’s bones lessens with age, for instance, the higher demand for daily intake of calcium is evident.
The Elderly and Dietary Restrictions
Making changes to your diet and lifestyle can have a profound effect on your health. You want to be flexible, mobile, and to feel great for as long as possible, and one of the best ways to do this is to be mindful of what products are going in the grocery cart! The U.S. government’s dietary guidelines for Americans outline a number of good eating habits that older adults should follow to help enjoy good health — and good nutrition — longer.
Some key recommendations that the elderly adults should make a part of their daily diet:
- Fiber for a healthy digestive tract – Not only are elderly individuals’ digestive systems more prone to complications than younger people, side effects from daily medications can further disrupt the muscular contractions of peristalsis. Fiber helps promote regularity and avoids the painful effects of constipation. It also helps protect against heart disease and many other life-threatening ailments. Try to get 14 grams for every 1,000 calories you eat.
- Good fats – Contrary to popular belief, not all fat is bad. According to the Mayo Clinic, the two types of fats to avoid that lead to clogged arteries are trans fats and saturated fats, which lead to bad cholesterol. Fish oil supplements supply much-needed Omega-3 fats and are an important addition to every elderly person’s diet plan. Stay away from butter, grease and food that have been fried.
- Sodium – Salt can make food incredibly tasty, but it is also one of the worst substances for your heart. According to the American Heart Association, sodium can increase a person’s risk of stroke and heart disease. Opt for healthier alternatives, which means keeping consumption of processed foods (e.g. fast food) to a bare minimum. The elderly should limit sodium intake to no more than 1,500 mg per day or about a half teaspoon.
- Potassium – A diet high in potassium will offset the negative effects of sodium. If you want to function at peak physical performance, consume at least 4,700 mg of potassium every day. (A banana typically contains 460 mgs of potassium. Obviously, you won’t want to eat 10 bananas each day, so consider a good multivitamin, as well as other potassium-rich foods in moderation, such as potatoes, white beans, dark leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and beet, turnip, and mustard greens; and fruits like dried apricots, and cantaloupe, as well as other seasonal offerings such as squash and avocados.) Your heart will thank you for it!
Dietary Considerations for Older Adults with Health Conditions
The need for the above nutrients is higher for elderly individuals who have common health conditions like gout, diabetes (Type 2 in particular), and kidney disease. Having a condition such as these merits extra attention to proper diet and steering clear of certain foods
- Gout: Gout is a form of arthritis. Some of the contributing factors of gout are dietary. Individuals who eat too much meat and seafood, and who drink excessive quantities of alcohol are prone to gout. Diets high in alcohol or processed meats can lead to an over-production of uric acid in the blood, which causes crystallized formations to develop on and around joints. If you have gout, eat less meat, stop drinking alcohol, and remember to take your prescribed medication.
- Diabetes – Dietary restrictions for older adults with diabetes include but are not limited to multiple servings of fruits/vegetables and whole grains. According to the American Diabetes Association, a quality diet for older adults with diabetes should include regularly-scheduled meals to keep blood glucose levels at a normal level and to offset insulin injections and/or medications, if needed.
- Kidney disease – The dietary restrictions for older adults with kidney disease include limiting fruits and vegetables that contain too much potassium or phosphorus in their diet. While phosphorus and potassium are both necessary to the body functioning normally, an excess of these minerals can cause a number of problems (such as joint pain, brittle bones, or an irregular heartbeat) for those with kidney disease. To ensure proper kidney health and functioning, drink plenty of water (a minimum of eight ounces) daily. This cannot be stressed enough.
As always, consult with your doctor to determine the best possible diet for your needs. Here’s to your good health!
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