Eating Right As You Age
Not everyone's nutrition needs are identical. As we age, our bodies and metabolism change. Although older adults still need plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fiber, they need to add or subtract a few things from the diet they followed earlier in life.
Many older adults have a decreased sense of taste and decreased absorption. They need to make sure they get enough water and nutrients, even if they must take supplements to get them.
Although we all should drink eight glasses of water a day, it's critical for older adults to factor in water because they have decreased kidney function and may not feel thirsty.
Adequate water intake helps avoid constipation. Older adults' digestive tracts don't work as effectively as they once did, making constipation more likely, and many older adults have dental problems that keep them from eating as much fiber as they need. Fiber also helps prevent constipation.
Another possible addition to an older adult's diet is a vitamin and mineral supplement. Older adults often don't get enough calcium or vitamin D in their diet, and a lack of either of those can lead to bone loss and osteoporosis. Vitamin B12 is another nutrient that's often found lacking in older adults. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans report that, on average, people over age 50 get adequate vitamin B12 by eating fortified cereals. However, as the body ages, it becomes less able to absorb B12 from foods. B12 is critical for healthy nerve and red blood cells. Vitamin B12 supplements may be taken as a pill, an injection, or a gel applied to the inside of the nose.
You should discuss the issue of supplements with your health care provider. Older adults already purchase more supplements than other age groups. Unfortunately, false advertising leads them to believe that supplements will stop or curb the aging process.
Recent research indicates that many problems associated with the aging process can be slowed with a good diet. So the benefits associated with consuming a balanced, nutrient-rich diet are endless.
Other aspects of older nutrition
One good way to find out what you need in daily nutrition is to visit the USDA website, ChooseMyPlate.gov. The site asks for your age, gender, and level of physical activity to determine your daily caloric needs.
Choose My Plate, based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the USDA, encourages people to eat a suggested amount from five major food groups each day. The recommended amounts vary based on a person's age, gender, and activity level. If you can't eat the recommended amounts, at least try to eat something from each group each day. Choose lower-fat foods and include vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
The recommendations below are suggested amounts from the Dietary Guidelines based on daily calorie recommendations. Women over 50 should eat between 1,600 and 2,200 calories a day, depending on their activity level; men over 50 should eat between 2,200 and 2,800 calories, depending on their activity level. If you are physically active most days of the week, choose the amount in the middle or on the high end of the recommendation; if you aren't active most days, choose the lower end of the recommended range:
- Grains: 5 to 10 ounces. One ounce equals one roll, a slice of bread, or a small muffin; a half cup cooked rice or pasta; or about a cup of ready-to-eat cereal. At least half of the grains you eat should be from whole grains.
- Vegetables: 2 to 3.5 cups; include a variety of colors and types.
- Fruit: 1.5 to 2.5 cups.
- Low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, or cheese: 3 cups of milk. One cup of milk equals one cup of yogurt, 1.5 to 2 ounces of cheese, or a half cup of cottage cheese.
- Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts: 5 to 7 ounces. Equivalent one-ounce servings of lean meat, poultry, or fish are a quarter cup of cooked beans or tofu; 1 egg; half-ounce of nuts or seeds; or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter.
Other tips for good nutrition:
- Eat only small amounts of fats, oils, and sweets.
- Fruits and vegetables are a real plus for seniors because they are lower in calories than other foods, yet high in nutrients, Fruit is much healthier for dessert than cookies or cake; yet many older adults indulge their sweet tooth with sugary treats rather than fresh fruit.
Click here to learn how Lakeland’s Registered Dietitians can help you develop a healthy eating plan.