You already know that a good diet plays a vital role in your physical and mental development, but did you know that the human body’s nutritional needs change as it ages? What is considered healthy eating for a 20 year old is markedly different from an individual who is 30, 40, 50 or 60. Of course many things do not change. Staying adequately hydrated, for instance, is important for people of all ages, though this too is affected by age-related problems, such as decreased absorption and fluid retention.
Perhaps the leading nutritional difference between the elderly and those still in their youth is the need for a healthy immune system. The National Institute on Aging tells us that our immunity naturally weakens with age. Eating certain foods that counteract these changes becomes more and more essential.
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Maintaining a healthy weight level is yet another challenge the elderly face, due primarily to the fact that metabolic rates are significantly slower for people aged 50 and beyond. A slower metabolism means more of the calories you consume will be converted into fat instead of being used for energy — a process that can be curbed with daily exercise.
For seniors who are living at home or with loved ones, ensuring good health through better nutrition does not need to be a burden. However, understanding a senior’s changing nutritional needs is very important.
Eat better for improved physical, mental and emotional health
The National Institutes of Health’s Senior Health division points out that the elderly are at a much greater risk for developing life-threatening illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. A balanced diet is key to lowering one’s chances of contracting such ailments, or for managing them for those who already do. Energy levels also suffer the older a person gets. If you often feel sluggish in the morning or desire to take naps midday, you may not be eating enough.
- Fruits, vegetables and Omega-3 for optimal brain function – Millions of seniors are diagnosed with debilitating mental health conditions like Dementia and Alzheimers every year. Aim to eat 3-4 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, with at least one per meal. Fatty acids found in nuts are also crucial for a healthy brain.
- Stop eating foods high in sodium – Cut back on salt intake, as it is the leading cause of clogged arteries and is dangerous for people suffering from Type 2 Diabetes. As tasty as they may be, those French fries are doing more harm than good!
- Know your daily caloric intake – Your level of physical activity has a direct impact on how many calories are needed to maintain a healthy weight. The National Institute on Aging explains that women need fewer than men on average (1,600-2,000 vs. 2,000-2,800). For proper nutrient absorption and digestion, divide your daily consumption into 5 or 6 smaller meals vs. the traditional 3 (breakfast, lunch, dinner). You will be constantly energized throughout the day and will never feel hungry if you eat this way.
- Calcium, Vitamin D, B12, Fiber and Potassium – Each of these vitamins and nutrients is vital to healthy senior living. The first two help strengthen bone density that weakens gradually. B12 promotes healthy blood cells and nerves, Fiber prevents issues in your digestive tract, and Potassium aids in the reduction of sodium and high blood pressure.
Eating a well-balanced diet requires that you know the proper serving sizes. Since fruits and vegetable have the highest nutritional value, more of these should be consumed each day as opposed to dairy. In addition, elderly men and women who are consuming 2,000 calories each day should include the following in their daily diets: 6 ounces of whole grains; 3 cups of low-fat milk or dairy; and approximately 6 ounces of lean meats or alternative protein sources (eggs, nuts, seafood).
It’s important that older adults eat the right foods in the right amounts to stay happy and healthy for as long as possible. Remember: You are what you eat!
For more information check out our Nutrition Resources