"Older adults tend to need fewer calories as they age because they are not as physically active as they once were and their metabolic rates slow down. Nevertheless, their bodies still require the same or higher levels of nutrients for optimal health outcomes," advises Alice H. Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. Making the most of your calories by choosing nutritious foods can help to ensure positive energy levels and overall health. For best results, seek specified guidance from your doctor or dietitian.
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Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are low in energy density, meaning they have few calories per serving compared to other foods, yet are rich in nutrients. They also provide plenty of fiber, which promotes appetite control and digestive function, and carbohydrates, your body's main dietary source of energy. Tufts University recommends that senior citizens emphasize bright-colored vegetables, like broccoli and carrots, and deep-colored fruits, such as melon and berries, for optimum nutrient intake. Choose whole fruits over juices and sweetened canned fruits, which often contain less fiber and more calories.
Unlike refined grains, such as white and enriched wheat flours, whole grains do not have their valuable nutrient contents stripped away. Consuming three or more 1-ounce servings of whole grains per day can lower your risk for chronic diseases, like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to SeniorJournal.com. Doing so may also enhance weight control and your longevity. Like fruits and vegetables, whole grains provide valuable amounts of complex carbohydrates. Because they have a milder impact on your blood sugar, eating whole grains instead of refined grains can lead to more positive, stabilized energy levels. Valuable options include 100 percent whole grain breads and cereals, old-fashioned oats, air-popped popcorn, pearled barley and brown rice.
The oil in cold-water fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids – healthy fats you must obtain from food. Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids are associated with improved memory, brain function and mood, all of which correlate to positive energy levels, according to a "Today's Dietitian" article published in April 2009. Fish particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, halibut, herring, lake trout, mackerel and sardines. For added wellness benefits, grill, bake, broil or poach fish instead of frying it.
Low-Fat Dairy Products
Your need for calcium and vitamin D, both of which help your body absorb calcium, increases as you age, according to Lichtenstein. Some people find meeting their daily needs of these nutrients challenging. Low-fat dairy products also provide valuable amounts of carbohydrates, which boost energy and only mildly affect your blood sugar compared to refined foods, like sweets. Nutritious dairy-based foods include low-fat milk, yogurt and cottage cheese, part-skim mozzarella cheese and kefir, a cultured dairy beverage.
During each stage of life, you require specific nutrients to ensure optimal health. As you age, your body requires different nutrients, in different amounts than it previously did. Many factors influence the types of nutrients that are required or those who are lacking in the diets of older adults, including physical conditions and social issues. Each person is an individual, and so each person's needs are different, however there are some universal changes that take place in the aging body that lead to an increased demand for certain nutrients.
Macronutrients and Calories
According to Alice H. Lichtenstein, director of director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, older adults need fewer calories as they age because they expend less energy as the metabolism slows. Tufts has published a modified nutritional pyramid that emphasizes nutrient-dense foods, including whole grains, high-protein lean meats, colorful vegetables, unsaturated fats and plenty of fluids. Specific calorie needs vary based on height, weight and age, but older adults should aim to consume around 0.8 to 1 g of protein per 1 kg of body weight.
Micronutrients that are of greatest importance for older adults include calcium and vitamin D, which are important for bone health; fiber for gastrointestinal health; and potassium for blood pressure maintenance. Other micronutrients may be of importance if you have a specific health concern, in which case you should ask your doctor or consult a dietitian.
Medical Conditions Affecting Nutrition
Many medical conditions influence nutrient needs and intake. For example, if you have poorly fitting dentures or missing teeth, you may not be able to eat certain foods. Cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other diseases will also greatly impact the types of foods required and consumed. Many medications also interfere with appetite or mouth taste, making adequate consumption of nutritious foods a challenge. Ask your doctor if there are alternatives to the medications you believe to be causing a problem or ask about supplementing with a vitamin-enriched nutritional shake. Often, you can meet your nutritional needs through a combination of diet and supplementation but be sure to consult your physician or registered dietitian for guidance.
Social issues such as depression, eating alone, accessibility of meals and ability to afford healthy foods are problems that are often prevalent in this population. Aging adults may have lost the ability to drive to the grocery store, or lost the motivation to cook for just one person. The Older Americans Act of 1965 was passed by congress in response to these types of concerns. The bill provides funding to local agencies that provide meals to older Americans, such as the Meals on Wheels program and congregate meal site. Contact your local Meals on Wheels office to see if you qualify for assistance.