The Best Diet for An Older Adult
The Best Diet for An Older Adult
As people age, it becomes more important to focus on the kinds of food needed for their body type and any medical concerns and not just on how many calories are consumed or achieving an ideal weight. For example, older people who don’t get enough of the right nutrients can be too thin or too heavy. Some may be too thin because they don’t get enough food, while others might be overweight partly because they get too much of the wrong types of foods. Likewise, people with certain medical conditions might find it necessary to limit certain types of foods or follow a specific diet (e.g., low sodium, low fat, low cholesterol, low potassium).
Malnutrition and Older Adults
A recent study showed that more than half of American seniors seen at emergency departments are either malnourished or at risk for malnutrition. Malnutrition, which can be caused by eating too little food, too few nutrients and digestive problems related to aging, can lead to fatigue, depression, weak immune system, anemia, weakness, and digestive, lung and heart problems, as well as skin concerns.
Older adults may eat less often or eat only those foods with a distinctive or strong flavor. As we age, the intensity of taste and the ability to identify different tastes diminishes. While older people tend to maintain the ability to detect sweet taste, we have more difficulty detecting sour, salty and bitter tastes. Other factors that affect taste include dentures, medications and smoking, while problems with digestion and medication interactions can also affect our diet.
How Much Should an Older Adult Eat?
The National Institute of Health (NIH) provides guidelines for how many calories an older adult should consume.
A woman over age 50 should consume daily about:
• 1,600 calories if her physical activity level is low (only performs activities associated with typical day-to-day life)
• 1,800 calories if she is moderately active (walks the equivalent of 1.5 to 3 miles a day at 3 to 4 miles per hour)
• 2,000 to 2,200 calories if she has an active lifestyle (walks the equivalent of more than 3 miles a day at 3 to 4 miles per hour)
A man over age 50 should consume daily about:
• 2,000 to 2,200 calories if his physical activity level is low (only performs activities associated with typical day-to-day life)
• 2,200 to 2,400 calories if he is moderately active (walks the equivalent of 1.5 to 3 miles a day at 3 to 4 miles per hour)
• 2,400 to 2,800 calories if he has an active lifestyle (walks the equivalent of more than 3 miles a day at 3 to 4 miles per hour)
What Should an Older Adult Eat?
With age, it becomes more important that diets contain a sufficient amount of calcium, fiber, iron, protein and vitamins A, C, D and folic acid. Because no one food or pill provides all of the nutrients, it’s best to eat a variety of foods to get the full spectrum of nutrients.
Vegetables, Fruits and Grains
Vegetables, fruits and grains offer important vitamins and minerals to keep your body healthy. Most of these foods have little fat and no cholesterol. They are also a source of fiber, which can help with digestion and constipation, and may lower cholesterol and blood sugar.
They also provide phytochemicals—natural compounds such as beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene—that can promote good health and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. In addition, vegetables, fruits and grains contain antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, which can protect cells in the body from the damage caused by oxidation. Antioxidants are thought to promote health and to possibly reduce the risk of certain cancers and other diseases.
Healthy vegetable choices include broccoli, spinach, turnip and collard greens, as well as other dark, leafy greens. Aim for lots of color on the plate as a way to get a variety of vegetables each day—for example, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, red peppers or winter squash.
Choose whole or cut-up fruits to get the benefit of the natural fiber. Choose fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruits and go easy on fruit juices.
Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Approximately one ounce of grain foods counts as a serving. This is about one slice of bread, roll or small muffin. It also equals about one cup of dry flaked cereal or a half-cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereal. At least half of the grain food eaten each day should be whole grains, which are a major source of energy and fiber. Other whole grains include popcorn, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, and quinoa.
Protein helps build and maintain muscle and skin. As we age, protein absorption may decrease, and our bodies may make less protein. However, this does not mean protein intake should be routinely increased, because of the general decline in kidney function. Excess protein could unnecessarily stress kidneys.
Sources of protein include meats, seafood, beans, nuts, seeds, and tofu. When buying meats, which also provide B vitamins, iron and zinc, choose lean cuts or low-fat products, because they provide less total fat, less saturated fat and fewer calories than products with more fat.
Beans, including pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, split peas and lentils, tend to be low or lower in saturated fats, and provide fiber. Another source of protein is nuts and seeds.
One egg, one-fourth cup of cooked dry beans or tofu, one tablespoon of peanut butter or a half-ounce of nuts or seeds equals 1 ounce of meat, poultry or seafood. Be aware that peanut butter and nuts are very high in fat, though mostly good fat, so should be eaten in moderation.
Older adults need 1,200 mg of calcium a day. Low-fat or fat-free dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese, provide calcium and vitamin D to help maintain strong bones, as well as protein, potassium, vitamin A and magnesium. Nondairy sources of calcium include broccoli, almonds, kale, canned fish such as salmon and sardines, and calcium-fortified tofu or soy beverages.
Choose sweet dairy foods with care. Flavored milks, fruit yogurts, frozen yogurt and puddings can contain a lot of added sugars—empty calories that provide little in the way of nutrients.
Some cereals and juices are fortified with extra calcium and vitamin D.
Your body needs some fats for energy and for healthy organs, skin and hair. Fats also help your body absorb vitamins A, D, E and K and provide essential fatty acids, which your body cannot make on its own.
On the other hand, fat contains more than twice as many calories as protein or carbohydrates, and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other health problem. Fats should be limited to 20 to 35 percent of the total daily calories. For instance, someone who follows a 2,000 calorie per day diet should only have 400 – 700 of those calories from fats.
The best fats are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats from vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, canola, olive, safflower and sunflower. Polyunsaturated fat is also found in nuts, seeds and fish.
The worst kinds are saturated fats and trans fats, which increase the risk for heart disease. Everyone should consume no more than 10 percent of calories from saturated fats, which are found in red meat, milk products, including butter and palm, and coconut oils. Common sources include regular cheese, pizza, grain-based desserts such as cookies, cakes and donuts, and dairy desserts, such as ice cream.
Processed trans fats are found in stick margarine and vegetable shortening and are often used in store-bought baked goods like pastries, crackers and candy and in fried foods at some fast-food restaurants.
Home Caregivers Can Help
If all this sounds too much to handle, be assured that help is available. A private in-home caregiver can help plan and prepare meals that keep a healthy diet on track. They can do the shopping for someone, or take them along for a nice outing to the grocery store. And best of all, they clean-up the kitchen after each meal.
For more information about the common services provided by an in-home caregiver, see “Allways Home Care Services”http://www.allwayshomecare.org/best-diet-older-adult/Caregiver TrainingRecipes