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Special Nutrition Concerns for Seniors

Good nutrition is essential to your quality of life as you age. The following tips can help older adults eat healthier diets and deal with age-related changes and concerns. MyPlate serves as a guide to help you make healthy food choices. Your daily diet should include the right amounts from each of the five basic food groups. You may find additional information about MyPlate at www.choosemyplate.gov. ChooseMyPlate.gov

Grains: Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta Group (5 to 6 ounces servings daily)

  • One ounce= 1 slice bread; 1/2 cup cooked cereal; 1 cup ready-to-eat-cereal; 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta.

Vegetables: (2 to 2½ cups daily)

  • One cup= 1 cup of vegetables (fresh, canned, frozen, raw or cooked), or 1 cup of vegetable juice, or 2 cups raw leafy greens.

Fruits: (1½ to 2 cups daily)

  • One cup 1cup of fruit (raw, cooked, canned or frozen), 1 cup of 100 percent fruit juice, or ½ cup of dried fruit.

Dairy: (3 cups daily)

  • One cup= 1 cup of milk or yogurt; 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese; 2 ounces of processed cheese.

Protein (5 to 5½ ounces daily)

  • One ounce= 1 ounce of cooked, lean meat, poultry or fish; 1/4 cup cooked, dry beans; 1 egg; 1 tablespoon peanut butter; ½ ounce of nuts.

The following are some suggestions for managing age-related changes and concerns through your diet:

Weight Control

As you age, your body needs fewer calories, while other nutrient needs remain high. Although your body needs fewer calories as you age, it still needs the same amount, or more of certain vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamins B12, B6, and folate.  Limiting high-calorie foods, such as sweets, high-fat and fried foods, and alcoholic beverages will help to prevent weight gain. When you gain weight, especially in the abdominal region of your body, it puts you at risk for heart disease, diabetes mellitus, and other chronic diseases. Regular physical activity will help you control your weight. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Constipation

Constipation is a common problem among older adults. To help prevent or relieve constipation, eat a diet that includes high-fiber foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grain breads and cereals. Add prune juice or prunes to your diet and drink plenty of fluids every day. Regular exercise may also help relieve constipation. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Poor dental health

This may affect your ability to eat a healthy diet  and can put you at high risk for poor nutrition. You may need to modify your food consistency to make some foods easier to chew or swallow. Try chopping, mashing, grinding, and pureeing foods. Be sure to see a dentist for treatment of decaying teeth or improperly fitting dentures.

Digestion

Your body digests food less efficiently as you age. Older people produce less saliva and stomach acid, which both serve to aid in the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. To help prevent or relieve digestive problems, try eating smaller, frequent meals. Eat slowly in a relaxed atmosphere. Chew your food thoroughly.

Sense of taste and smell

As you age, your senses of taste and smell may decrease because taste buds deteriorate with age. To compensate, you may prefer very sweet or salty foods. Sweet foods often lead to weight gain.  Salty foods cause the body to hold onto extra water, which can aggravate high blood pressure and cause the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. Loss of taste and smell can also contribute to loss of interest in food. Make your plate visually appealing. Fill your plate with a variety of colors, and increase the flavor of food by experimenting with herbs and spices.

Here are some suggestions for use with meats, soups, vegetables, and salads:

Beef Poultry Fish Soups Salads Vegetables
Bay leaf, basil, chili powder, curry, garlic powder, marjoram, mustard, onion powder, oregano, parsley, sage, tarragon, and tumeric Allspice, bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, curry, dill weed, garlic powder, ginger, mace, marjoram, mustard, nutmeg, onion powder, oregano, paprika, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme, and tumeric Allspice, anise, basil, bay leaf, cayenne pepper, celery seeds, cloves, curry, dill weed, fennel, mace, marjoram, mustard, nutmeg, onion powder, oregano, paprika, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme, and tumeric Allspice, bay leaf, cayenne pepper, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, paprika, parsley, thyme, and tumeric Basil, celery seed, chives, dill weed, mustard, onion powder, oregano, parsley, and tarragon Allspice, basil, bay leaf, cayenne pepper, celery seed, chives, curry, dill weed, ginger, marjoram, mustard, oregano, paprika, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme

Bone Health

Osteoporosis is a degenerative disease in which the bones become fragile, brittle, and prone to fractures. Calcium intake is important to prevent osteoporosis, especially as you age. Milk and milk products are excellent sources of calcium. Decreased tolerance to milk and milk products can occur with aging; however, many people can tolerate small amounts at a time. Try lactase enzyme tablets and drops, and lactose free foods. Fermented milk products, such as yogurt, cheese, and buttermilk, are often tolerated, as well as cooked milk products, like cream soups and puddings. Increase your intake of other calcium-rich foods, like salmon, sardines, green leafy vegetables, and calcium-fortified orange juice, cereals, breads, and rice. Get regular physical activity to maintain bone strength.

Poor Appetite

Many older adults have decreased appetites for many different reasons. Eating smaller, frequent meals may be helpful. High calorie, nutrient rich foods are encouraged, such as cottage cheese and fruit, peanut butter and crackers, yogurt, milk and cereal, and meat and cheese sandwiches.

Eat in a comfortable atmosphere and take your time. Eat with family and friends. Take part in group meal programs offered through senior citizen centers. Ask your doctor if your medicines could be causing appetite or taste problems. Nutritional supplements may be beneficial for you. These include Ensure, Ensure Pudding, Boost, and Carnation Instant Breakfast. These supplements should not take the place of meals.

Do I Need to Take a Supplement

After the age of 50, the key vitamins and minerals you should get enough of are vitamins B6, B12, folate, calcium, and vitamin D. It is best to meet our needs for these nutrients through diet. If your diet is limited or you have a poor appetite it may be beneficial to consider a multivitamin and mineral supplement to meet these needs. Always check with your doctor before taking a vitamin or mineral supplement as high doses of certain supplements may be harmful or interact with medication. The supplement should not exceed 100 percent of the RDA for its vitamins and minerals, unless your doctor requires this for you.

Mobility

Seniors with limited mobility or lack of transportation to the grocery store are at risk for poor nutrition.  Community agencies can provide meals and transportation assistance for seniors who have trouble getting around. Check into receiving Meals on Wheels or dining at senior group meal centers. Allow family, friends, and neighbors to help also.

Resources

To find out more about senior citizen group meals and home-delivered meals in your area that are free or at a reduced cost call (800) 677-1116 or visit the Eldercare website at www.eldercare.gov

Revised 6/3/13

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