Nutritional Considerations in Diets for the Elderly

As the body ages and slows down, nutrition becomes an increasingly important consideration. While proper nutrition is essential to healthy aging, diet planning for the elderly isn't particularly complicated in most cases. There are simply certain health and nutritional concerns to be aware of so that those specific dietary needs can be met.

Some Common Concerns

The body's metabolism begins to slow as a person gets older. Because of this, the body no longer processes nutrients as well as it used to. The digestive system also slows, and the stomach produces less gastric juice to digest the food being consumed. In addition, many seniors also struggle with:

- Loss of appetite: Whether due to decreased physical activity, gastrointestinal problems, or age-related dementia, many seniors simply lose their appetite. Because of this, care must be taken to make sure the elderly person is eating regularly and in sufficient quantities.

- Eating discomfort: Elderly people commonly have difficulty or discomfort chewing food due to loose teeth or ill-fitting dentures. Some also experience a dry mouth that can make eating difficult. If this is the case, appropriate foods must be provided so that seniors can eat in comfort and without the danger of choking.

- Lack of access to food: Some seniors fail to eat properly simply because they don't have sufficient finances to provide for themselves. Others can't drive, thus they aren't able to shop for their food needs.

- Interaction with medications: Many seniors take one or more prescribed medications, and most don't realize that some medicines interact poorly with certain foods. Grapefruit juice, caffeine, fiber and milk are common culprits for food-drug interaction. Physicians and caregivers must provide seniors with the proper education so that negative reactions can be avoided.

Meeting Dietary Needs

As you can see, special care must be taken to provide proper nutrition. Of course, if a senior suffers from other conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or arthritis, further considerations must be taken to provide (or restrict) certain foods. In general, however, an elderly diet should include:

- Nutrient-dense foods: Elderly people rarely eat large portions, so it's vital to include foods that are nutrient-packed. Include unrefined grains, brightly colored fruits and vegetables, and nuts for a good nutrition boost each day.

- Calcium-rich foods: Bone density decreases with age, so calcium is a very important aspect of a healthy senior diet. Seniors should consume at least 3 servings of low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese each day.

- High-fiber foods: Since the digestive system slows down, food takes longer to pass through the digestive tract - often leading to constipation. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help to remedy this, though many seniors do need supplemental fiber added to their diets as well.

- Protein-rich foods: Protein is extremely important as it helps seniors to maintain healthy muscle mass and mobility. Of course, in most cases, seniors should choose lean, low-fat protein sources like fish, poultry, beans and seeds.

In addition to a healthy diet, it's wise to have elderly folks weighed regularly to make sure they are maintaining an appropriate weight. This will help caretakers to monitor any changes and adjust dietary needs accordingly.

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