Eating a well-balanced diet is an important part of staying healthy as you age. It can help you maintain a healthy weight, stay energized, and get the nutrients you need. “Old age is a privilege, social success, and challenge.” Old age is not a disease, but a biological process that no one can avoid. It is a process that starts from the prenatal period and continues until the end of life. Aging is an inevitable, irreversible, and progressive phenomenon. Aging is linked to different changes in the body, including muscle loss, thinner skin, and less stomach acid. Some of these changes can make you prone to nutrient deficiencies, while others can affect your senses and quality of life.
Two major effects of Aging are Physiological and Socio-Psychological. In physiological changes, one might experience loss of teeth, Decreased Neuromuscular Coordination, change in body composition, change in Gastro-Intestinal tract, change in cardiovascular system, change in Renal function, change in Respiratory function, physical discomfort, loss of appetite, Diminished sense of taste and smell, Impaired hearing and failing vision. In socio-psychological changes, one might experience a change in food habits, loss of self-esteem, loss of independence, change in economic status, loneliness, signs of depression, anxiety.
The right kind of Nutrition has a huge impact on the physical, mental health, and well-being of older adults. Just like toddlers have different needs than teenagers, nutritional needs for the elderly are also different than other age-groups. Seniors are extremely susceptible to malnutrition, because of a lack of proper nutritional knowledge.
As people age, their calorie requirements may change because of changes in body composition and activity levels. Calorie needs vary depending on age and activity level but for many older adults 1400 to 1600 calories, each day will meet energy needs. Chosen carefully these calories can supply a wealth of nutrients that will lead to healthy, active, and cheerful life.
Special nutritional needs for elderly
Younger adults need protein to stay fit and ward off high cholesterol. Nutritional needs for the elderly are similar in this respect, but the main reason seniors need protein is for the muscle mass. As muscle mass decreases with age so high biological value proteins are important. For example Milk and milk products, cheese, paneer, eggs, lean meats, peanuts.
Omega 3 fatty Acids
Go for “GOOD FAT” not “NO FAT”, Rather than trying to cut out fat from your diet, focus on enjoying healthy fats such as omega 3s that can protect your body against disease and support your mood and brain function. These are important for maintaining heart health and also crucial for supporting brain health in several ways. Low levels of omega 3s can cause memory loss, reduced immune function, and even mental health conditions like depression, Dementia, etc. Examples of omega 3s fats are nuts and seeds, plant oils like canola oil, soya bean oil, flaxseed oil, fish, and other seafood.
This important aspect of senior nutrition has a few benefits. Fiber is essential for maintaining proper digestive health and avoiding constipation. Many fiber-rich foods like whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables are vital for supporting heart health.
Calcium, vitamin D, Magnesium
All three of these nutrients are essential for maintaining strong bones and muscles. Strong bones and muscles are crucial for avoiding falls and fractures associated with age as well as osteoporosis. These all work together, bones require calcium for strength, vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, and magnesium helps available calcium make its way through the bloodstream. Milk and milk products are good sources of calcium, sunlight, egg yolk are good sources of vitamin D, green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are good sources of magnesium. In general, foods containing dietary fiber provide magnesium.
Vitamin B 12
Vitamin B 12 deficiency affects up to 20% of adults over 60 years. The digestive system’s ability to absorb protein-bound vitamin b12 decreases with age. Lack of this vital nutrient has a huge impact on both the blood and CNS. In some cases, symptoms like anemia, tingling or numbness in the extremities, fatigue, poor balance, and memory loss can be seen. Rich sources of this vitamin are milk, cheese, eggs, meat, and fish.
The entire body needs adequate potassium levels for several reasons. This mineral is vital for cellular function across the body including the heart, muscles, nervous system. Good levels of potassium are required to maintain strong muscles and a healthy blood pressure level. Rich sources are bananas, oranges, lemons, coconut, cooked spinach, cooked broccoli, potatoes, peas.
In order to ensure adequate nutrition for elderly folks, the following are some tips to consider fulfilling their Nutritional needs:
- Encourage small frequent meals instead of three large meals.
- Stick with complex carbohydrates like oats, Dalia, jowar, bajra, brown rice, Makki ka atta, buckwheat flour, whole grain pasta, and bread.
- Include lean protein with every meal like beans, groundnuts, dry fruits, eggs, paneer, and yogurt.
- Choose bright colored seasonal fresh fruits and fresh vegetables as they are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Add flavor with spices and herbs. Avoid high cholesterol and high sodium flavorings like butter, preservatives, and canned foods.
- Avoid refined sugars and simple carbohydrates like baked goods, white bread, white rice, as these spike blood sugar levels and also they don’t have much nutritional value.
- Make sure to add multivitamins and supplements in consultation with the family Doctor.
- Don’t forget to stay hydrated with hot, warm, and cold beverages like soups, green tea, milkshakes, lassi, buttermilk, fresh juices, smoothies, fresh lime water, etc.
Healthy eating is about more than just-food. Eating well as you age is about more than just quality and variety of food. It’s also about the pleasure of eating, which increases when the meal is shared. Eating with others can be as important as adding vitamins to your diet. A social atmosphere stimulates your mind, makes meals more enjoyable and helps you stick to your healthy eating plan.
(The Author is a Consultant Dietitian, Nutritionist, Writer and Columnist)