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Because of the physiological and psychosocial diversity of older adults, studying nutrition of the aging is very challenging. Factors such as nutrition, genetics, physical activity and stress contribute to the diverse population of elderly adults. All of these factors, during earlier years of life, contribute to the complex needs during the later years of life.

It is a mistake to believe that all elderly people have the same nutritional needs and should follow a similar plan. The fact is, as people get older, the less similar they are. Many of the health related problems experienced by older adults are due to the normal aging process, yet other problems are due to genetics, physical activity and eating habits.

The first possible problem lies in that many elderly adults are eating alone. This means that these adults are at particular risk for poor nutrition. The mealtime becomes challenging due to many factors. The purchasing, storing and preparing becomes more difficult as time passes for singles, as well as couples. The following tips have been found to be very helpful:

1. Buy only what will be used.
Buy small cans of vegetables instead of large ones. Buy only three pieces of each kind of fruit. For example: one ripe one (for now), one medium ripe (for later) and one green one (for a day or two later). Ask you grocer to break up large packages into small quantities. Buy only pints or quarts of milk.
2. Separate foods that must be bought in large quantities.
Separate and freeze meats in small portions. When buying a large quantity of fresh vegetables, make stews or soups and freeze in small portions for later.
3. Keep shelf staple items in airtight glass jars.
Put these jars filled with rice, pasta, dried beans, flour, cornmeal, nonfat dried milk and cereal in the freezer overnight before storing on shelves. Doing this will kill any eggs or organisms in the foods and keep them fresh indefinitely. Remember that light destroys some nutrients so store in opaque jar or in the dark. Remember that keeping them in sight will be a reminder to use them in meals.
4. Use nonfat dry milk
Nonfat dry milk adds more calcium than any other food with fortification of vitamin A and D. It can be stored on the shelf for several months and can be mixed in very small or large portions. This can be added to almost anything. Add to gravies, sauces, coffee and ground beef for added nutrients.
5. Cook for several meals at a time.
Try cooking in larger portions. Put small portions in a freezer safe container and freeze for a later date. Good examples are: meatloaf, meat pies, and casseroles.
6. Buy frozen vegetables.
Take out the exact portion needed and store the rest. Close open bag with a rubber band or clothespin to keep fresh. These vegetables can also be used in stir-fry.
7. Label foods with date and name.
This will help keep track of supplies and freshness.
8. When eating alone it is very important to remember that this is a way of taking good care of yourself.

As for the nutrient needs of the elderly woman, studies have shown that the quantity of nutritious food is voluntarily reduced as they become older. If the diet is also less nutritionally dense, then a problem arises. It is true that, at this time in life, energy needs are lower because of the decrease in metabolic rate and physical activity. Although less consumption of food is needed to maintain body weight it is still very important eat a variety of foods that are nutrient dense. Foods high in sugar, fat, or alcohol should be used in moderation due to their low nutritional value. Because of the lower energy needs protein-containing foods should be of high quality. For example, choose low fat protein-rich foods such as lean meats, poultry, fish, non-fat milk and low-fat cottage cheese. Foods that are high in fat should be limited since fat carries more that twice the calories per gram of protein and carbohydrate. Fat consumed should be more in the form of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat that provides essential fatty acids. Saturated fat should be limited. It is also important to consume enough carbohydrate to protect from protein being used as energy. Carbohydrates such as vegetables, whole grains and fruits are high in fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. Because of the higher risk for dehydration water should be 6 to 8 cups per day. Some older adults restrict their intake to limit trips to the bathroom. This practice should be avoided because of the risk of dehydration. Thirst cannot be relied upon because this sensation may not be noticed or just ignored.

Finally, the subject of drug-nutrient interactions should be addressed. Older adults are users of over-the-counter and prescription medications. These drugs may contribute to the longevity of life but may also contribute to a compromise in nutritional status. These drugs may alter food intake by depressing or stimulating the appetite. They may also reduce the absorption of nutrients from foods. Others may alter the metabolism and excretion of nutrients. For these reasons, drugs and their reactions should be considered carefully in the diet. A personal physician should be consulted and all drugs taken should be monitored closely. Remember that over the counter drugs can interfere with nutritional status just as prescriptions drugs. Remember to consult a physician and keep them informed of all drugs taken.