Do Nutritional Need Change As We Age?
Apr 26, 2018
There’s no question about it—nutritional needs change as we age. Dietary needs are different for babies, children, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged adults, and seniors.
If you consume the right nutrients and eat the foods your body needs as you age, you’ll stay healthier. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) claims this leads to a life of prevention, rather than intervention!
Why Our Nutritional Needs Change
Physical changes occur as you age. This affects how your body processes food and impacts your nutritional needs.
- Your metabolism slows down
Aging slows down your metabolism, no matter what. But if you don’t exercise as you age, metabolism diminishes even more quickly. When your metabolism slows down, your body doesn’t burn as many calories, even during restful periods. This means you need to eat less to avoid gaining weight. Because of this, it’s more important than ever to eat nutrient-rich foods, instead of empty calories.
- Your digestive system changes
As you get older, your body produces less of the fluids it needs to process food in your digestive system. This makes it harder for your body to absorb important nutrients from the food you eat.
- Your appetite may change
Many seniors take one or more medications that affect appetite. If you have a lack of appetite, it’s hard to get the nutrients you need. Also, loneliness or depression may cause some seniors to lose interest in eating.
Seniors Frequently Fall Short on Several Nutrients
Calcium and Vitamin D
Older adults need increased calcium and vitamin D to maintain bone health. Ways you can add this to your diet: low fat or fat free milk, yogurt, fortified cereals and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, and canned fish with soft bones. If you take a calcium supplement, make sure it also contains vitamin D, which encourages more calcium absorption.
Many people past the age of 50 do not get enough vitamin B12. To add this to your diet, eat fortified cereal, lean meat, and some fish and seafoods. Ask your doctor if you need a vitamin B12 supplement.
Fiber-rich foods help you stay regular and also lower your risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Sources of fiber to add to your diet are whole-grain breads and cereals, beans, peas, fruits, and vegetables.
Potassium helps lower your risk of high blood pressure. Add fruits, vegetables, milk, and yogurt to increase your potassium intake.
Tips for Eating Well as a Senior
1) Know what a healthy plate looks like
Remember the food pyramid that most of us grew up with? That was from the USDA, and now they’ve replaced it with new guidelines. They recently unveiled a simpler way to help people see what they should eat each day. It’s called My Plate, and it shows exactly how the five food groups should stack up on your plate. On the USDA's website, you can click on each different food group and read the USDA's suggestions on the best way to fill these nutritional needs.
2) Read nutrition labels
The healthiest foods to eat are whole foods. These foods are normally found on the perimeters of the grocery store in the produce, meat, and dairy sections. When you buy packaged foods, read the labels and choose items that contain less fat, added sugars, and sodium.
3) Watch your serving sizes
The food label will tell you the recommended serving size. Be aware that many packages that look like a single serving actually can be two or more servings.
4) Stay hydrated
Water is an important nutrient! Tea, coffee and water are your best choices. Try to drink small amounts of fluids consistently throughout the day. Learn How to Stay Hydrated and Healthy—Even in Oklahoma Summers!
5) Stick to healthy fats
Choose healthy fats. These are found in seeds, nuts, avocados, and fish. Avoid the saturated and trans fats found in many processed foods.
6) Choose whole grains and fiber-rich foods
Choose brown rice, whole grain cereals, and whole wheat bread instead of white bread, white rice, and refined grains. Also include healthy amount of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables every day.
7) Get plenty of protein
Your body gets strength and power from lean proteins like beans, eggs, chicken, fish, lean meats, and nuts.
8) Limit salt
Limiting salt added to your food is helpful for maintaining good health—especially for seniors.
Be aware of your body’s changing nutritional needs
Nutritional needs change throughout all the different stages of life. By being conscious of your body’s changing nutritional requirements as you age, you’ll be much more likely to maintain your health and mobility. We can all agree that’s definitely an adjustment worth making!