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Nutrition and Aging

Proper nutrition is an important part of a healthy, active lifestyle and can help you remain healthy as you age. Eating too much, as well as eating too little, can accelerate aging and increase your risk of many life-threatening diseases and conditions. But eating a nutritious, balanced diet can actually help slow the aging process and prevent many age-related diseases. Recent research indicates that proper nutrition and exercise can reduce your risk of osteoporosis by more than 50 percent.

As you age, your nutritional needs change. Your metabolism slows, causing you to need fewer calories than when you were younger. Hormonal changes cause your body to produce more fat and less muscle, meaning you need to consume less fat and more protein in your diet and increase your physical activity and strengthening. In addition, your bones lose mineral content more rapidly, especially if you are a post-menopausal woman. This means you need to consume more calcium to prevent osteoporosis.

In general, older adults need approximately 1600 calories per day, made up of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables; whole grain or fortified breads, cereals, and rice; lean proteins such as fish, poultry, soy, eggs, and legumes. It's also increasingly important to consume plenty of liquids as you age, as your kidneys become less efficient at keeping your body hydrated and your sense of thirst decreases, which can lead to dehydration and constipation. Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day.

Even if you eat a well-balanced diet, you may be missing key vitamins and minerals, so you should take a vitamin supplement every day to ensure you are getting the proper nutrients as your body cannot absorb certain nutrients as well as you age. You should consume 1200-1400 milligrams of calcium each day (about three servings of calcium-rich food such as milk or yogurt), 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D, 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B-12, as well as 20-30 grams of fiber.

Carbohydrates should still make up the majority of your diet, but be sure to choose complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables and grains, instead of simple sugars such as sucrose (white sugar), fructose (the sugar found in fruit) and lactose (milk sugar).

Malnutrition is also a significant concern for older people. Individuals who are underweight have more trouble and take longer to bounce back after an illness or injury, which can eventually lead to permanent health problems or even disability. Living alone, chronic diseases or conditions, limited transportation, financial difficulties, and lacking assistance can all make it difficult for seniors to get proper nutrition. Many seniors find it hard to prepare nutritious meals and end up relying on fast food and take-out, both of which can be full of empty calories, fat and sodium. If you have problems keeping your weight up, be sure you eat three meals plus three snacks every day and never miss a meal. Choose higher-calorie foods from each group, such as whole milk instead of skim. Eat the highest-calorie foods in a meal first. Use liquid supplements, such as Ensure or Boost, between meals.

If you are having problems meeting your nutritional needs due to transportation, financial, or health issues, contact your local meal program or talk to your doctor.



Featured Sites:

Cord Blood Registry
March of Dimes
Susan G. Komen

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