Living a long healthy life requires we take care of our bodies. Good nutrition and moderate amounts of exercise will do miraculous things to keep you healthy and active. Healthy nutritional guidelines for seniors are even more important. As we approach our senior years our bodies don’t work nearly as efficiently as they used to; digestion is slower, we require fewer calories and have different sleep needs as well.
Many seniors today are undernourished because of aging, eating processed foods, decreased metabolism and the effect of medications. Thirty percent of seniors lose their ability to make stomach acid, which affects the absorption of folate and vitamin B-12 and B-6. Deficiencies in these vitamins can cause neurological problems such as short-term memory loss, decreased alertness, and numbness of the extremities. Depression and loneliness can contribute to a decreased appetite and further malnutrition.
Healthy nutritional guidelines for seniors recognizes that seniors usually need less calories to support their energy expenditure. The true test of how many calories are needed is whether you are losing or gaining weight based on the amount of calories you are currently eating. But the amount of calories isn’t the last word in nutrition. Healthy nutritional guidelines depend upon the kind of calories that are being consumed.
The new USDA Food Pyramid rests on a senior drinking 8-9 8-ounce glasses of water per day. This is stressed because, as seniors, people will often have a decreased sense of thirst which may lead to chronic dehydration. Chronic dehydration can lead to decreased kidney function and constipation. Fluids that seniors should avoid are whole milk, caffeinated drinks, and alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol will dehydrate the body instead of rehydrating it and 3 glasses of whole milk has more saturated fat than 13 strips of cooked bacon. We’d never think of eating 13 strips of bacon each day but many people don’t think twice about drinking large amounts of whole milk.
Another key element to healthy nutritional guidelines for seniors is the use of a multivitamin. Supplements are often recommended because seniors eat less and don’t absorb and process foods and nutrients as efficiently as when they were younger. Because absorbing calcium from dairy products also means absorbing higher amounts of saturated fat it’s recommended that seniors get the majority of their calcium from green leafy vegetables and supplements.
Daily intake of vitamin D is important to the absorption and processing of calcium and other minerals. Your body can process vitamin D from the sun but unfortunately, many seniors have limited exposure. You should include vitamin D in your daily supplementation if you spend the majority of your days indoors.
Healthy nutritional guidelines include additional fiber intake daily. Fiber can come from a multiple number of sources from vegetables and fruit to whole grains, legumes, and flax seed. Fiber is important because it helps alleviate and prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, and diverticulosis. Check out the fiber content of the foods you eat and add milled flax seed to your salads and cereals. Flaxseed will increase your fiber content and your intake of Omega-3 fatty acids – both of which positively affect your cholesterol levels.
When shopping, healthy nutritional guidelines for seniors incorporate whole grain breads, cereals, rice, and pastas. When going through the produce department chose vegetables of varying colors and textures. Whole milk dairy products should be limited. Eating fish once a week is recommended because it can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. When fats and oils are consumed used olive oil or plant-based oils such as almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and avocados. And remember when you are eating there are usually more than one serving on your plate. For example, a sandwich with two slices of bread is actually two servings of whole grains.
Healthy nutritional guidelines for seniors aren’t difficult to follow, especially if you develop good eating habits as a younger adult. One adage to remember is that we don’t live to eat but rather we eat to live.
HelpGuide: Eating Well over 50
National Agricultural Library: Seniors
national Agricultural Library: Aging
AgingCare: 6 Vital nutrition Tips for Your Elderly Parents
Administration on Aging: Nutrition Services