Health and nutrition are important at every stage of life, but as we age our bodies change as well as our needed nutrients. Regardless of the changes our bodies experience, whether it’s a decrease in energy, or loss of hearing, a desire to live well remains the same through every phase of life, especially our later years. This is why understanding the proper nutrition for older adults is crucial to living happily and healthfully.
How Our Body Changes with Age and its Effect on Our Nutrition
While many of the changes our bodies experience with age are out of our control, they can often cause us to adopt poor nutritional habits, or vice versa. Here are the major changes that impact nutrition for older adults.
Changes to Our Senses
- Loss of hearing, smell, and/or taste
For many older adults a loss of hearing, smell, or taste is common, which can ultimately affect the way we eat. For example, changes in taste can make it increasingly difficult to find food that tastes good, which potentially results in under eating. Perceptual changes, while not detrimental to our overall health, can be a common cause of inadequate nutrition for older adults.
- Organ function
As we age, our organs age with us. The organs that most commonly experience a loss of function with age are our kidneys, heart, and lungs. This is due to the progressive alteration of cells and connective tissues that occur in later years of life.
- Loss of energy
Research shows that energy expenditure, or the amount of energy someone needs to carry out a physical function, decreases with age. This means that as we age, the amount of energy we have to burn calories drops. In fact, studies show that the decline in energy expenditure is especially rapid after age 40 for men, and after age 50 for women.
- Gastrointestinal Changes
Common gastrointestinal changes like constipation, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), and excessive gas can negatively affect eating habits and nutrition for older adults.
Recommended Foods and Nutrients for Older Adults
The way our bodies change with age clearly impacts our health and behavior. And when it comes to nutrition for older adults, it’s not always a matter of neglect but a simple unawareness of the nutrients we need to keep our bodies healthy.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in their nutritional advisory program “Food Patterns,” recommends that adults over the age of 50 should be conscious of their caloric intake while eating the right amount of foods from five various food groups: whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and healthy oils.
How many calories should I eat?
Depending on your gender, age, and activity level your amount of daily recommended calories will vary. The following are general recommendations for Americans over the age of 60 based on activity level:
- Inactive adults: 1,600 calories/day
Inactive adults are those who do not intentionally exercise.
- Moderately active: 1,800 calories/day
Moderately active adults are those who participate in workouts or physical activity about once or twice a week. This could include two mile walks, or a session at the gym.
- Active: 2,000 calories/day
Active adults are those who participate in physical activity at least three days each week.
Are you getting enough of these nutrients?
Older adults should aim to incorporate the following nutrients into their diets:
Proper nutrition for older adults requires sufficient amounts of calcium, which helps maintain bone health. You can include calcium in your diet by eating fortified cereals, dark green and leafy vegetables, canned fish, as well as drinking milk and fortified plant beverages. Try to have three servings of calcium rich foods every day.
- Vitamin B12
According to the National Library of Medicine 38% of older adults may exhibit mild vitamin B12 deficiency and depleted vitamin B12 stores. Low levels of vitamin B12 can cause anemia, neuropathy, and cognitive impairment. Fortunately, your doctor can determine your vitamin B12 levels with a simple blood test.
For older adults experiencing constipation or other gastrointestinal issues, adding fiber to your diet can make a world of difference. Research from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also shows that fiber can reduce your risk for heart disease as well as type 2 diabetes.
Older adults should aim to consume 4,700 mg of potassium every day. You can incorporate more potassium into your diet by eating bananas, oranges, prunes, spinach, broccoli, and other fruits and vegetables.
Nutrition should be a priority at every age, but as we get older, our nutritional needs change. Liberty Lutheran believes in empowering seniors to improve their health, decrease stress, and attain their ideal levels of activity. Our abundant senior wellness programs focus on fitness, nutrition, and well-being to enhance your health and vitality in new ways. For more information on how we can help you maintain your health and achieve your fitness goals take a look at Liberty Lutheran’s senior wellness services