A lot of changes come in your elder years. You may need assistance with acts of daily living. Your body starts to slow down and many of your needs begin to shift. Your sleep, energy levels, appetite, and abilities all may go through changes. So will your nutritional needs.
Senior Nutritional Needs 101
To ensure you have the best quality of life and maintain as much independence as you can for as long as possible, it’s important to continue giving your body the nourishment it needs. This can be challenging, however, given the various changes you may experience. Understanding what your body is going through is the vital first step in making sure it continues to get everything it needs. Consider the following changes:
1) Digestive Changes
As your body ages, it produces less of the fluids necessary for digestion. This makes it harder to absorb important nutrients such as folic acid and B vitamins. You also may experience constipation, chronic gastritis, gas, and delayed stomach emptying which could discourage you from eating healthy food. However, foods high in fiber such as raw fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help prevent constipation, heart disease, and help you maintain a healthy weight. You can also maintain healthy levels of B vitamins through supplements and fortified cereals.
2) Metabolic Changes
As you enter into your elder years, muscle mass begins to decrease as fat increases. This decreases your basal metabolic rate (BMR), an estimate of the calories your body burns in 24 hours at rest. The net result is your body burns fewer calories and needs a lower calorie intake to maintain your weight. It’s important to focus your food intake on nutrient-rich foods. Eat a balanced diet of lean proteins, fat, and carbohydrates. Maintaining this intake very few hours helps keep your metabolism going and blood sugar stable. Getting regular exercise will also help keep your metabolism higher for longer.
3) Appetite Changes
As the body ages, your medication needs often increase. Many medications, like those for treating heart conditions, may lead to a decreased appetite or even an upset stomach. Because of this, many seniors do not eat enough to meet their needs which results in poor nutrition. Taste buds are also affected as you age with a diminished perception of salty and sweet. Food may taste more sour or bitter. Also, your sense of smell often diminishes which further affects the way you experience food. Because it’s not as satisfying, you may be inclined to make poor dietary choices. You may also not desire meat as much or have difficulty chewing it which may put you at risk for iron deficiency anemia.
4) Hormonal Changes
As women age, your body slows the production of estrogen which leads to loss of bone mass. This puts you at an elevated risk for osteoporosis. If you are female, it’s important to make sure you’re getting adequate daily adequate intake at about 1,200 mg. As men get older, you become more susceptible to prostate issues. Give your body the best chance to combat prostate disease by consuming a low fat, low calorie diet that’s high in fresh fruits and vegetables.
5) Increased Risk of Heart Disease
Your lifetime risk for heart disease is highest after midlife. One of the best ways to lower your risk for heart disease is choosing a heart-healthy diet. Limit intake of saturated fat and salt. Focus on getting plenty of healthy fats such as almonds, walnuts, avocados, olive oil, and canola oil. Try to eat plenty of foods rich in potassium such as low-fat milk and bananas. Limit your fat calorie intake to 20% – 35% of your daily diet and eat mostly unsaturated fats. In addition to eating a heart-healthy diet, get moderate exercise several days a week.
Optimize Your Quality of Life With Healthy Eating
The body is like a machine with every cell, organ, and system working together to complete the functions you need for daily living. The more efficiently they work together, the better your quality of life will be. Be informed about your body’s dietary needs. Use this guide to senior nutritional needs to choose a healthy diet for a longer, better life.
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