Turning 50 is a milestone for many people. The half-century mark comes with new rules for medical tests and often brings a couple of health-related signals indicating that it’s time for some dietary changes. Even if you have enjoyed a healthy 50 years or more, nutritional needs change over time. Gradual dietary tweaks may be wise to ensure your golden years are, well, golden.
Nearly every senior asks me how much they should eat to maintain a healthy weight. Most are concerned that they may gain a few pounds while recovering from surgery or a health setback. The general Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is listed below for senior men and women of different activity levels. However, keep in mind that this is just an overview. Even caloric intake must be personalized for some individuals, depending on whether they need to maintain a healthy weight or lose/gain a few pounds.
More than 1 in 3 seniors in the care of others is at risk for under- or mal-nutrition (Mayo Clinic/American Dietetic Association). Malnutrition is the lack of proper nutrition, not necessarily a lack of food. Detecting malnutrition in seniors may be difficult, and even seniors who eat enough may be eating the wrong foods to keep themselves healthy. At Comfort Keepers®, we help seniors live healthy, independent lives and promote senior nutrition through the Nourish Senior Life® initiative.
Sometimes good nutrition for seniors can be easier if someone else does the cooking. If you’re finding it difficult to prepare healthy meals for yourself, talk to a family member, friend, or your doctor. There may be services available to help make sure you’re getting the nutritional food you need. For example, Meals on Wheels is available across the United States and in other countries. The service may be available where you live.
If you experience a loss of appetite or unintentional weight loss, talk to your doctor immediately. It may be a normal sign of aging. On the other hand, it can also be caused by an underlying health condition that needs treatment. Your doctor and dietitian can also help you lose weight if excess body fat is raising your risk of chronic health conditions or straining your joints and muscles.
“Rough up” your diet. Include a variety of high-fiber foods every day, such as raw fruits and vegetables and whole grains. These foods help cut down on constipation; provide the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and nutrients that you need for healthy aging; help maintain your weight; and reduce your risk of heart problems. If you’re not sure you’re getting enough fiber, talk to your doctor about supplements.
Probiotics are good bacteria that are naturally found in the gut. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs) and other infections, but these medications kill both good and bad bacteria and can negatively affect the GI system. To maintain healthy gut flora and help the digestive system recover more quickly after taking these medications, take a daily probiotic supplement and eat foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi.
Most gerontologists agree that the root cause of physiological losses associated with aging—i.e., loss of muscle, skin elasticity, or changes to organ function—result from normal wear and tear to cells that die and are not replaced. Therefore, the effects of cell loss accumulate over time. Though some degree of decline is normal and unavoidable, many individuals may exhibit excellent health well into the “older adult” phase. The Greeks referred to this appearance of vibrancy and youth with age as “agerasia.”
A healthy diet is rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). As the National Council on Aging notes, details about nutrition for seniors you might change as people age. Because your metabolism slows, you may need fewer calories than earlier in your life. However, your body may need more of certain nutrients. This may be especially true if you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Nutrition for seniors can be complex. Always talk with your doctor before changing your diet.
Elderly people who live alone and are left to prepare food by themselves often have bad outcomes. Cognitive and physical problems often cause seniors to become unable to prepare adequately nutritious or filling meals. Eating almost every meal in isolation can also exacerbate anxiety, loneliness, and stress. In other words, constantly eating alone can put seniors at risk.