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As you age, your energy or calorie needs decrease, yet many of your vitamin, mineral and other nutrient needs increase. But having a proper diet isn't always easy, especially in these days of busy lives and convenience foods. Fast food outlets are practically on every corner, tempting us with their speed and low cost. Even if you prefer home-cooked meals, one of every five seniors has difficulty walking, shopping, and cooking, thus making such meals difficult or impossible.
As the resident chef at Red Bud Hills Retirement community in Bloomington, Indiana, Gary Vandagrifft knows all about preparing nourishing meals for older adults. He comments, "The average age of our residents is 82 and they have various health concerns. It's our task to create healthy, interesting meals for one hundred people with one hundred very different dietary needs. Chronic problems like diabetes and diverticulitis, make meal planning a real challenge, just as it would for seniors living at home."
A number of factors affect older adults and their nutrition. For example, many seniors take multiple medicines. The more medicines you take, the greater the chance for side effects such as decreased or increased appetite. Another factor is mouth pain or tooth loss, which can make eating painful. Economic hardship is another consideration, unfortunately forcing some seniors to pick between their much-needed medications or healthy food. Finally, one third of all seniors live alone, which generally has an impact on their cooking and diet.
Older adults with chronic illness and infirmities are most likely to have nutrition problems, as they won't always have the energy to prepare a home-cooked meal. But, we sometimes forget, poor nutrition can take the form of over-eating as well as under-eating.
So what do older adults need to keep up with their changing nutritional needs? Here's what the experts suggest.
Calcium In addition to those extra candles on your birthday cake, you might want to add bone-strengthening calcium to your diet. Recommendations for adults ages 19 to 50 suggest 1000 milligrams per day, the equivalent of three cups of low-fat or skim milk. Once you reach age 51, however, you calcium needs rise to 1200 daily. Other calcium rich foods are yogurt, broccoli, kale, mustard greens and soy products such as tofu.
Vitamin D Your need for Vitamin D doubles after age 50 and triples after age 70. While fortified milk is one source of vitamin D, many experts believe a dietary supplement may be the best way to obtain the necessary amount. However, vitamin D can be toxic at high levels, so more isn't always better.
Fiber A varied diet of whole grains, such as 100 percent whole-wheat bread, whole-grain muffins and brown rice can help you reach your goal of 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily. Other options are cooked lentils, chickpeas and beans. Select a piece of fruit, rather than fruit juice, for added fiber. Fiber can help lower your cholesterol and bloodsugar and aid in the battle against certain cancers.
Water Although it's something we all take for granted, water is especially important for seniors. Elderly people tend to lose their sensation of thirst as they get older and consequently can easily become dehydrated. From regulating your body temperature to carrying out waste products, water is essential to your well-being. On a given day, seniors lose an average of 10 cups of fluid, which needs to be replaced. Alcohol, tea or coffee should not be included when calculating fluid intake, because of their diuretic effect.
Protein For older adults, protein needs increase by about 25 percent. For a 150-pound individual, that equals about 14 grams of additional protein each day. An ounce of lean meat, fish or poultry provides about seven grams of protein, whereas a serving of milk or yogurt contains about eight grams. Peanut butter and eggs are other excellent sources. Protein is also found in grains and vegetables, which means a well-balanced diet will usually meet your protein needs.
Vitamin B12 Found in such foods as yogurt, milk, fish, meats, it's estimated 10 to 30 percent of older people have problems absorbing the type of B12 which occurs in foods. One solution is breakfast cereals fortified with B12 or a supplement.