Getting adequate nutrition is a major challenge for the elderly of our society. With age your overall calorie requirements decreases as your activity level dips down. Nutrient absorption along with your metabolism rate slows down. There is overall blunting in appetite and decline in food taste.
As you grow older you go through many changes in life. Healthy eating and regular physical activity are very much essential especially for older adults above the age of 50. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the majority of diseases that older people suffer are due to lack of proper diet and lifestyle. It is very much essential to making suitable lifestyle choices to prevent some health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
During the elderly stage of life – There are many challenges which the elderly face:
• Decreased sensitivity – Numbness of senses; sensation of smell and taste decreases, thus reducing their appetite
• Medication side effects – This age group of life is often affected by consumption of some or the other type of medication, some of which can cause nausea, bring down appetite, change taste perceptions. In such cases, it leads to skipping of meals on daily basis
• Poor Dental Health – Missing teeth and receding gums can make your teeth shaky, can cause mouth sores, and jaws painful, ultimately reducing your appetite.
• Physical Difficulty – When dealing with conditions like arthritis and disability, it becomes difficult to stay physically fit. Performing basic functions like standing for long, carrying heavy bags, or even peeling fruits may become difficult tasks.
• Memory Loss – Memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are some common issues found among the seniors. A major reason can be nutrition deficiency.
• Degenerative disease – Osteoporosis and diabetes, are also diet- related more specifically with micro-nutrients.
• Micronutrient Deficiency – Iron, calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin E and C are key micronutrients and are often found lacking in the elderly, due to factors like reduced food intake and lack of variety in diet.
As we age, the definition of healthy eating changes slightly. Our bodies need more of certain nutrients and our metabolism slows so we require fewer calories.
Because of these changes, it is important for older adults to choose foods that provide high nutritional value.
Nutritional Food Groups which are very crucial during the elderly phase of life:
1. Fiber- rich Foods: The problem of indigestion grows with age. During old age the walls of the gastrointestinal tract thicken and contractions become slow, which lead to constipation. In addition, fiber- rich foods have been found to reduce the risk of heart disease. For example- whole grain cereals and grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, oats.
2. Iron Rich Foods: Iron is the main source of hemoglobin which carries oxygen in the blood from the lungs to the rest of the body. Supply of oxygen to the body tissues decreases in case of iron deficiency, resulting in feelings of tiredness and lethargy. For instance, peas, lentils, white, red, and baked beans, soybeans and chickpeas, dried fruits, such as prunes, raisins and apricots.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These fatty acids help in preventing inflammation which can cause cancer, rheumatoid, arthritis and heart disease. It has also been found to slow down the progression of Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) – a condition that leads to poor vision. Basically, found in fish mainly sardines, Tuna, Mackeral and Salmon. They are also present in flaxseed, soybeans, canola oil and walnuts.
4. Calcium for Bones: This is essential for healthy bones and for lowering blood pressure. If your body is not getting enough calcium, it begins to re-absorb it from bones, leading to osteoporosis as your bones become fragile. Major sources are – dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese as well as leafy vegetables and cereals fortified with calcium.
5. Vitamin D: Precursor for absorption of calcium in the body, slowing down the rate at which bones lose calcium. Recent studies show that it also protects against chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis, type 2 diabetes, cancer and rheumatoid osteoporosis. Vitamin D is produced by the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. Naturally, found in eggs and certain fish (salmon and tuna)
6. Vitamin C: Helps in repairing bones and teeth, and aids in healing wounds. This essential vitamin can be found in fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C also has antioxidant properties, which are believed to prevent cancer and heart disease.
7. Vitamin B12: For maintaining nerve function, production of red blood cells, and DNA. Found in dairy products, milk, meat and poultry products.
8. Water Retention: With age, the body’s ability to conserve water decreases, and reduces thirst. However, your body would still need water. In order not to get overwhelmed by the quantity of water you are taking you can put the water in small bottles and drink it throughout the day. Please consult your dietician or doctor about the amount of water you should be drinking.
Here, are some healthy eating tips for elderly seniors to gain more energy and prevent complicated forms of medical issues:
? Know your nutrients – Nutrients in foods help to keep our bodies healthy and active. Knowing which nutrients are important will help you decide what kind of foods to eat. Your plate should be full of a variety of brightly colored foods. A healthy meal should include a good amount of complex carbohydrates, protein rich foods, fruits and vegetables and dairy products. Consult a qualified dietician who will help in designing a balanced diet.
? Cut down on sugars – Refined sugars have a lot of empty calories that offer no nutritional value. Slowly reduce the number of sugary foods you eat and replace them with whole foods that are naturally sweet, such as fruits and sweet peppers. Consult with your doctor before making changes to the diet.
? Plan your meals – Planning your meals ahead of time can help you eat healthy. If you know what you are going to eat throughout the week, you can avoid unhealthy choices out of convenience. You will also avoid buying too much food that will spoil before you can eat it.
? Add physical activity – Physical activity paired with nutritious eating is a winning combination for a healthy life-style. Set a goal to be physically active for atleast 30 minutes a day. You can split this up into smaller, 10-15 minutes increments throughout the day.
If you are not currently active, start slow and work your way up to more activity. You might want to try simple exercises that improve balance or go on a walk around the block in your neighbourhood. A health care professional can help you to come up with an exercise plan that works best for you.