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.”
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.
Weight loss is a common concern for many older seniors. It may become necessary to eat every two or three hours, eat larger portions at the time of day when your appetite is strongest, incorporate healthy fats into your diet, make healthy smoothies for snacks, and have a healthy bedtime snack. Additionally, if you smoke, then speak to a healthcare professional about resources that can help you quit. (Smoking can reduce your appetite and ability to taste.)
Older individuals may be at risk for low B12 due to less intake of foods containing this vitamin and decreased stomach acid secretion, which can inhibit conversion of B12 into a usable form. Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal source foods, such as meat, eggs, fish, and dairy products. It also can be added to fortified foods such as breakfast cereals in a crystalline form, which is better absorbed by those in the older population. This crystalline form is not dependent on stomach acid for absorption, making it more bioavailable.
The food, caloric, vitamin, and mineral intakes noted below are taken from the average recommended guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its subsidiaries.1 They are general guidelines and do not replace the recommendations provided by your doctor. Additionally, any specific health or nutrition concerns that you have should be discussed directly with your doctor.
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.
This issue is especially relevant to seniors because difficulty cooking can cause a senior to adopt a diet where the main staple is a pre-packaged meal or an unhealthy indulgence of a particular food group. Even seniors who are attempting to gain weight should eat a balanced diet rather than fill themselves with foods that are high in fat, salt, and sugar or low in nutrients.
It’s not uncommon for older adults to have special needs related to a healthy diet, according to the National Council on Aging. As you age, you become more susceptible to chronic health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and osteoporosis. To help prevent or treat these conditions, your doctor may recommend that you eat foods that are rich in nutrients, but low in excess calories, processed sugars, sodium (salt), and saturated and trans fats.
You can find trusted nutrition information in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which contain advice about what and how much to eat and which foods to avoid. Every 5 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services use the latest nutrition research to develop these Guidelines that encourage people to eat healthier.