Essential nutrients for the elderly
It’s not just the kids who need more nutrients and a well-balanced diet for growth and development. Nutritional requirementsas we know, differ for each age group; as we age, the body’s nutritional needs increase while the calorie requirements decrease – thereby narrowing down on the food choices available to include in our diet. A variety of changes occur in the elderly; muscle loss, skin thinning, decreased stomach acid loss of senses and poor health.
The elderly - require reduced calories but more nutrients to compensate for the loss due to less absorption and poor digestion. Another concern people experience as they age is the reduced ability of the body to recognize vital senses like thirst and hunger, which makes them prone to dehydration and nutritional deficiencies. A major concern for the elderly is to manage health related disorders and in due course very little is done to meet nutritional requirements. Even though they may not be able to get all the nutrition needed for the body, listed below are a few nutrition facts that must be included for a better quality of life.
Calcium and vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D are vital nutrients for healthy bones. As people age, poor absorption of calcium and decreased synthesis of vitamin D from skin, promotes bone loss and increases the risk of fractures.
While calcium is important for stronger bones, vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium. The body makes vitamin D from cholesterol in the skin when exposed to sunlight. However, aging makes the skin thinner, thereby reducing the ability of the body to make vitamin D.
To compensate for the loss due to aging, it is vital to consume more calcium and vitamin D through foods and supplements. Some major source of calcium includes dairy products and green and leafy vegetables, while vitamin D is found in fish varieties like salmon, herring, and cod liver oil supplements.
Protein is the fuel to muscle growth but as people grow old, the average adult loses 3-8% of their muscle mass every 10 years after the age of 30. The loss of muscle mass and strength causes weakness, fractures and poor health among the elderly. Studies have found that more protein intake along with strength training, reduced muscle loss by about 40%. Some protein-rich food includes eggs, dairy products, chicken breast, nuts and fruits like avocados, kiwi, peaches etc.
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is essential for healthy brain function and to make red blood cells. However, studies indicate that 10-30% of people over the age of 50 have poor ability to absorb vitamin B12 from diet, which leads to vitamin B12 deficiency. Stomach acid separates vitamin B12 from food proteins and older people are more likely to produce less stomach acid, leading to less vitamin B12 absorption from foods.
Hence, older people may benefit from taking vitamin B12 supplements or vitamin B12 fortified foods, as they contain vitamin B12 in crystalline form and do not need stomach acid to absorb it. Fortified cereal,lean meat, seafood and some fish are good sources of vitamin B12.
Less movement, restricted diet and certain medications cause constipation, a common concern in people above 65 years of age. Fiber helps to form bulk to the stools and promotes regular bowel movements. Studies indicate that dietary fiber helped stimulate bowel movements in people with constipation. Foods rich in fiber include whole-grain bread, cereals, legumes and vegetables.
These unsaturated fats, found mainly in fish, have a wide range of cognitive health benefits in the elderly. Salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Vegan sources of omega 3 include; soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed and canola oil.
Other vital nutrients that are essential include potassium, magnesium, iron, water, and folates. These nutrients can be obtained by including a variety of fruits, vegetables and microgreens. Getting adequate nutrition can be a challenge as we get older but by making a conscious effort in our diet, we can also stay healthy and fit. Including these nutrients helps promote health and cherish the wisdom and peace of older age.