The nutritional requirements for elderly adults differ from people in other age groups. According to an article published in 2006 in the "Japanese Journal of Geriatrics," the definition of "elderly" should be those persons over the age of 75. According to the World Health Organization, elderly people are more at risk for being malnourished. Malnourishment commonly occurs because the elderly don’t have the funds to buy certain foods, they suffer from illness, or they follow a poor diet. As people age, their need for some nutrients increases, while their need for other nutrients decreases.
Increased age usually leads to a lower activity level, more fat stores and less muscle mass. With all of these factors combined, the elderly need to consume fewer calories than before. The National Institute on Aging suggests that elderly females who are inactive need 1,600 calories per day, while somewhat active elderly females should consume 1,800 calories per day. They also say that elderly males who are inactive need 2,000 calories per day, and somewhat active elderly males need 2,200 calories per day.
The elderly are advised to get 45 to 65 percent of calories, or about 130 grams, from carbohydrates. Most carbohydrates should be complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes and other starchy vegetables; legumes; and whole grains such as brown rice. Complex carbohydrates don't result in a quick insulin response like sugary foods such as soda, cake and candy. Glucose tolerance declines in the elderly, and complex carbohydrates will regulate glucose. Fiber is important for the elderly to regulate bowel movements. Elderly males should consume 30 grams and elderly females should consume 21 grams of fiber per day. Choose beans, vegetables, grains, fruits and nuts for good sources of fiber.
Protein and Fat
Protein needs will stay about the same as younger adults or may decrease. Kidney function is decreased in the elderly, so it's important to consult with a doctor or a dietitian for more specific protein needs. Elderly adults are advised to consume 10 to 35 percent of their calories, or about 46 to 56 grams, from protein and 20 to 35 percent of their calories from fats. Good fats, such as fish, olive oil, canola oil and low-fat dairy products, should be eaten more than fast foods and whole milk.
Adequate calcium and vitamin D is optimal for bone health. Adults over 75 should consume 20 micrograms of vitamin D and 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day. Increase calcium and vitamin D by eating green leafy vegetables, milk fortified with vitamin D, yogurt and fruit juice. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that the elderly don’t consume enough vitamin B12 in their diets. Adults 75 and over should get 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 each day through fortified cereals or supplements.
The elderly should get 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day, while limiting their consumption of sodium to 1,500 milligrams per day. Increase potassium intake with fresh fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products. Having the proper sodium and potassium balance decreases risk for high blood pressure, kidney stones and bone loss.
- World Health Organization: Nutrition for Older Persons
- Colorado State University Extension: Nutrition and Aging
- National Institute on Aging: Healthy Eating After 50
- National Policy & Resource Center on Nutrition & Aging: Dietary Reference Intakes for Older Adults
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Special Nutrient Needs of Older Adults
- Japanese Journal of Geriatrics: Reviewing the Definition of Elderly
- DietaryGuidelines.gov: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010