Healthy Eating and Diet Tips for seniors
A well-balanced meal and equally balanced health go hand in hand. We all wish to age gracefully and remain in a state of good health for as long as we live. However, it is natural for our bodies to wither with time and age until we die. This whole process can be delayed if we allow ourselves to follow a healthy diet and routine. Our body constantly needs the energy to function and this is provided by the food we consume, but as we age there are certain changes that occur within our body and life, and accordingly, our requirement of nutrients to stay healthy changes. Therefore, one should be careful about what one is consuming.
A diet that helps in the maintenance and improvement of overall health is referred to as a healthy diet. It supplies the body with essential fluids, nutrition, micro and macronutrients, and sufficient energy.
According to WHO (World Health Organisation) following are the five recommendations for a healthy body.
- Consume calories equivalent to your body’s usage to maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit the intake of fat. Favor unsaturated fat over saturated ones and avoid trans fat.
- Include fruits and vegetables in the daily diet along with legumes, and whole grains, and nuts.
- Intake of sugar must be limited to less than 10%
- Limit the intake of salt/sodium and ensure that it is iodized. It helps in reducing the risks of any cardiovascular diseases.
Challenges for a healthy diet in the elderly population:
There are several challenges that hinder the proper nutritional intake as we advance through aging.
- Decreased sensitivity: Our olfactory senses i.e, the sense of smell reduces greatly once we cross the mark of 60. The taste dysfunction is primarily associated with the reduced sense of smell. This vastly impacts food consumption in the elderly population and thus reducing the nutritional intake. (Boyce., 2006)
- Medication: Age-related diseases and their medications can have certain adverse effects like loss of appetite, nausea, or altered taste sensation. All these effects the eating habits of an individual. (Boyce., 2006)
- Dental problems: Missing or caries teeth can make the whole experience of eating painful, and uncomfortable among older people.
- Lack of finance and transportation: Limitation of resources to buy and commute can act as a huge barrier, and thus compromising the nutritional needs of the individual.
- Physical difficulty: Our bone weakens as we age and the majority faces the problem of arthritis as they progress through aging. This also limits the basic activities like cooking, chopping, grocery shopping, etc.
- Memory loss and Depression: This can also pose a big nutritional challenge wherein the individual forgets to buy groceries, skip a meal, or eat packed preserved unhealthy food.
Healthy food choices:
- Food rich in omega 3fatty acid: These are required in the older population to reduce the inflammatory process involved in cancer, arthritis, rheumatoid, and heart diseases. They are mainly found in small fishes and walnuts, flaxseeds, soya beans, etc.
- Calcium-rich food: Calcium is essential for the building and maintenance of bone. With advancing age more calcium is lost from the bones, especially among females after menopause, thus increased calcium is important. Dairy products like milk, yogurt, cheese, and green leafy vegetables are rich sources of calcium.
- Fiber-rich food: The digestion is affected in older people with difficulty in chewing and swallowing due to thickened intestinal walls and fewer contractions which may sometimes lead to constipation. Thus, fiber-rich food promotes proper digestion and is good for the heart as well. Example: wholegrain bread, cereals, pasta, brown rice, nuts, vegetables, etc
- Water: The water requirement is more as we grow older to compensate for the changes in body’s temperature . Dehydration can make the body vulnerable to various ailments.
- Food rich in iron: Iron deficiency anemia is quite common and one of the leading causes is nutritional deficiency. Iron is essential for the transportation of oxygen to vital organs, and failing to do so results in tiredness and lethargy.
- Foods rich in Vitamins: Vitamins such as C, D, and B12 are very important. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and helps in the healing, production of collagen, maintenance of the organs and body. Vitamin D aids in bone density maintenance and Vitamin B12 is vital for nerves, DNA, and blood cells. Thus, vitamin-rich food is important in the aging population for the proper functioning of the body. (Mohajeri., 2014)
- Food rich in minerals: Minerals such as potassium and magnesium are pivotal in numerous physiological functions of the body. It helps in keeping our heart healthy, immune system, and bones strong.
Dietary tips to overcome obstacles towards healthy eating:
- If there is age-related altered taste sensation or smell try adding spices, herbs, and color to food to make it look more appetizing.
- If you have trouble chewing, contact the dentist immediately to correct all dental/denture problems.
- If being alone or depressed makes you skip a meal, try cooking with/for a friend or organize some potluck meal.
- If your meal intake is less then snack on healthier options throughout the day to get more nutrients and calories.
- If drinking plenty of water is the issue then sip slowly small amounts of water in small containers throughout the day to stay hydrated.
- If there is an illness that is making it hard to cook or to do the basic chores then consult a doctor.
As the body grows old, the metabolism slows down and the dietary requirements also change. Hence it is very important to take special note regarding the nutritional demands, and what all changes should be taken care of. Along with calorie intake exercise also plays an essential role in maintaining a healthy and stronger life. Exercise, a healthy diet, and a happy state of mind, three of them together have the potential to delay the aging process of the body and help us to retain and stay stronger and healthier for a longer period of time.
- Lean, Michael E.J. (2015). “Principles of Human Nutrition”. Medicine. 43 (2): 61–65. doi:10.1016/j.mpmed.2014.11.009.
- WHO | Diet. WHO.
- Healthy Diet – WHO.
- Boyce, J. M., & Shone, G. R. (2006). Effects of ageing on smell and taste. Postgraduate medical journal, 82(966), 239–241. https://doi.org/10.1136/pgmj.2005.039453
- Nutrition for older adults. (US National library of medicine.)
- Mohajeri, M. H., Troesch, B., & Weber, P. (2015). Inadequate supply of vitamins and DHA in the elderly: implications for brain aging and Alzheimer-type dementia. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 31(2), 261–275. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2014.06.016
- Choosing Healthy Meals as You Get Older. (National Institute on Aging)