Nutrition

Changing bodies mean seniors need to modify diets

Proper nutrition in our senior years, like exercise, is an essential part of healthy aging. The same nutritional rules and cautions that guided us in our younger years still apply as we get older, but there are new things to pay attention to as well.

For the elderly, health eating is often made more of a challenge because of any one of a host of issues that are also common among seniors:

  • changes in our sense of taste and smell can make food less appealing;
  • living alone or without children reduces motivation to prepare meals;
  • dental problems can make chewing difficult;
  • living on a fixed income can restrict food options;
  • and changes in metabolism can affect weight gain;

All of this simply means that seniors need to pay special attention to how their bodies are changing, and make adjustments in eating habits to accommodate those changes.

For instance, most seniors are vigilant about the amount of salt in their foods, because it can lead to hypertension. As well, many people find food tolerances changing as they age, and develop an intolerance for caffeine or dairy products later in life.

For people over 50, the USDA Food Guide recommends a daily calorie intake of between 1,600-2,200 for women, and 2,000-2,800 for men. Where you fit into that range depends on how physically active you are.
Federal health authorities have developed nutritional guidelines for all adults, and offer suggestions for tailoring those guidelines for people over 50.
The USDA’s MY Pyramid food plan recommends daily consumption levels for fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and bean, and milk products to comprise a sound and balanced diet.
Seniors in particular should keep a few things in mind while reviewing these guidelines:

  • Drink plenty of water every day;
  • Eat whole grains wherever possible;
  • Limit ‘empty calories’ from sugar and flour-rich sweets and baked goods;
  • Cut back on salt and fat use wherever possible.
  • Eat your full nutritional requirements every day, even if you’re not hungry.
  • Participate in at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.

Health authorities have compiled plenty of useful guides to help seniors manage their changing nutritional requirements. For more information, visit the National Institute on Aging’s info center, or Nutrition.gov, the federal government’s starting point for nutrition information.