Being healthy is our common goal. From the time babies are conceived, mothers are prescribed with vitamin supplements and a list of food items that bear the appropriate amount of nutrients that will keep both the mother and baby to become healthy and strong. The same is done as soon as the child is born – both mother and child are given the proper sustenance to ensure that they receive their nutritional needs daily.
As we grow up, having the ability to choose from a wide range of food choices, we tend to just grab on food that is easier to eat. Just like an employee who happens to be rushing with so much work every day trying to meet deadlines, instead of having a proper diet, he would rather feed on chips or grab a bite from the nearest fast food restaurant.
Importance of nutrition
Nutrients are building blocks for muscles, bones, organs, blood, and hormones of all living organisms. They provide the fuel to the body in the form of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These nutrients are drawn from a variety of foods and drinks that the body consumes.
The dietary recommended index (DRI) is a set of reference values that are used in planning and assessing the nutrient intake of people which can vary by age and gender. This includes:
- Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), the average daily intake of food that is sufficient enough to meet the daily requirements of people.
- Adequate Intake (AI), established when it is insufficient to develop an RDA and at a level assumed to provide nutritional adequacy.
- Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL), the maximum daily food intake that is unlikely to cause adverse health effects.
Nutrition for the Elderly
As we age, there is a need to change our diets, especially if we have been accustomed to not having a well-balanced diet. Older individuals risk themselves of having malnutrition due to an inappropriate intake of unhealthy food.
In all stages of our lives, doctors recommend that we adopt a healthy lifestyle to ensure that we remain healthy and free from any kind of illnesses. For older adults, they should be more careful in choosing the kind of food that they eat. They should eat a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as foods rich in proteins and whole grains for the improvement of their overall health condition.
The elderly may experience some changes in the way they eat – reduced appetite, difficulty in chewing and in digesting food. Some may become picky as they would always want to consume food with rich flavors since their taste buds do not function the same way as when they were younger. And in turn, they consume foods that are too salty or too sweet which increase their risk for having various health conditions.
The reason why some elders suffer malnutrition is due to the fact that foods rich in micronutrients are expensive. However, if they are properly educated, they would be aware that there are inexpensive foods that can provide them with the right sustenance that they need daily. It is through discipline along with the help of the people around them will our elders have a better health.
Important Nutrients for the Elderly
Getting on a strict healthy diet may be a bit of a challenge to elders who may not have been too conscious of the kind of foods that they eat. But knowing the right kind of food, they will realize that the nutrients that they need are not something new to them. These can all be easily purchased from supermarkets. The difference lies on how these foods are cooked and the quantity that they need to consume.
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Not all fats are created equal. While you may think that this kind of nutrient is bad for your health, think again.
Omega-3 fatty acids are the type of fat that you wouldn’t want to miss out on. These do not only help your body to function efficiently. It also provides other health benefits. The EPA and DHA are primarily found in fish, while ALA is found in plant sources such as seeds and nuts.
It is common among the elderly to have an elevated triglyceride when the diet is poor in Omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil supplements can help decrease triglyceride levels to lessen the risk of having a heart disease. It is also helpful for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, as it increases the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.
It has also been found out by researchers that certain group of people who take Omega-3 fatty acid in their daily diet have lower levels of depression and is believed to boost the effects of antidepressants.
Calcium is a very important nutrient for the elderly because it helps to keep the bones healthy. The calcium requirement for people aged 65 years and older is 700mg a day. Taking 200 ml glass of milk or a matchbox-sized piece of cheese can provide one-third of the daily calcium needs.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is equally important for maintaining healthy bones. It is vital for the absorption of calcium that helps in strengthening the bones. Sources of Vitamin D are:
- Oily fish
Exposure to sunlight is also a good source of Vitamin D. It is recommended that elders should have at least 10 micrograms of Vitamin D each day.
4. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is responsible for keeping the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy as well as in making DNA. Vitamin B12 is also helpful in preventing a type of anemia referred to as megaloblastic anemia, a condition which makes people tired and weak.
The amount of Vitamin B12 depends on the individual’s age. The recommended dietary amount for 18 years old and above is 2.4 micrograms. The elderly needs to meet the RDA by eating foods that are rich with B12 or by taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
Sources of Vitamin B12 are:
- Breakfast cereals
- Chicken breast meat
A decrease in the secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach results in a decrease absorption of Vitamin B12 is a condition called atrophic gastritis. This may also lead to an increase in the growth of normal intestinal bacteria that use Vitamin B12, which causes the decrease in the amount of Vitamin B12 in the body. Therefore, elderly patients with atrophic gastritis are required to take much higher than the RDA to avoid Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Older people are recommended to take folic-acid-rich foods to prevent stroke and heart disease. Not having much of this nutrient is believed to contribute to anemia, and can also cause neural tube defect on unborn babies. Older people who do not consume enough fruits and vegetables in the diet lacks the necessary amount of folate that the body needs every day.
Breakfast cereals are now mostly fortified with folate, which makes folate deficiency quite uncommon nowadays.
Potassium is a necessary component of cells, tissues, and organs. It is also required for metabolism and for the normal functioning of the heart, muscles, and nerves.
The normal level of potassium should be between 3.5 to 5.0 milliequivalents per liter of blood. Any changes in the concentration can be lethal and there are several factors that can cause potassium deficiency. Therefore, an adequate amount of potassium in the diet is necessary to maintain optimum health.
Potassium works with other minerals such as magnesium, chloride, sodium, and calcium to help in the regulation of intra-and extracellular movement of nutrients and waste, pH Balance, brain function, energy level and heart rhythm.
The potassium level in the body of an elderly undergoes normal physiological changes. The body’s urine output increases that can affect the control in the reabsorption and excretion of nutrients as the kidneys decline. The excess in excretion of potassium in urine may result to a condition called hypokalemia. There are also certain medications that can alter the body’s potassium level such as laxatives, diuretics, bronchodilators, insulin, steroids, theophyllines, and antibiotics.
Sources of potassium are:
- Soy products
- Winter squash
An adequate intake level for potassium may vary by age. This is based on the amount of potassium needed to reduce salt sensitivity, lowers blood pressure and minimize the risk of kidney stones. Adults age 19 years and older are required to have a daily intake of 4,700 milligrams of potassium.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that helps promote healthy digestion by moving food through the digestive tract. It also helps regulate the body’ use of sugars. It also protects against heart disease.
Both children and adults need at least 20 to 30 grams of fiber daily to maintain good health. Great sources of fiber are:
- whole fruits and vegetables
- whole grains
Fiber is an important nutrient that helps reduce the risk of developing various conditions such as constipation, diverticular disease, and diabetes.
Consuming the right amount of fiber is the key to good health most especially to the elderly. Having enough fiber in the diet will help promote regular bowel movement. Adding fiber to the diet add texture, taste, and variety to the diet, while it helps increase the feeling of fullness which helps in controlling appetite and weight.
High fiber-rich foods are low in fat, cholesterol, and calories, as well as helps reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke and reduce obesity.
Magnesium is an essential nutrient that is responsible for maintaining a healthy immune system, keeps your heart strong, strengthens bone and in maintaining optimal muscle performance. As the person gets older, absorption of magnesium becomes difficult. This is due to certain medications taken by the elderly which reduces magnesium absorption such as diuretics.
Great sources of magnesium include the following:
- whole grains
- beans and seeds
- fruits and vegetables
The best source of magnesium is spinach. About 100 grams of spinach contains 79mg of magnesium.
Magnesium deficiency is uncommon since it is readily available in plants and animals. However, unhealthy adults may experience tremors, muscle spasms, loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, arrhythmias, vomiting and mood swings.
Water may not seem to be among the essential vitamins and minerals needed by the body, but it is very important in maintaining good health. The elderly may be prescribed to take various types of medications that may disrupt normal absorption of water in the body. An increase in fiber intake requires an increase in the amount of water intake as well.
Nutritionists recommend elders to drink 3-5 glasses of water daily. To determine if enough water is consumed every day is to check the color of urine. A dark colored urine may mean the need to take in more water.
It is possible that the individual may be suffering from some kind of disease or may be taking in a certain medication that can affect the color of urine. In any case, consulting a doctor is advised.