Nutrition has a huge impact on the physical health and wellbeing of older adults. Many people may not realize that nutrition needs vary depending on a person’s age. Just like toddlers have different dietary needs than teenagers, nutritional needs for elderly folks are much different than that of younger adults.
Unfortunately, senior nutrition doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Not only does healthy eating for seniors contribute to physical health, but it also has a huge bearing on memory and mental function.
Here’s why nutrition for older adults is so important and how to ensure seniors receive adequate nutrition.
We recommend including fish, especially oily fish, in the diet of elderly people at least twice a week. Research suggests it’s an effective way of reducing the risk of various types of cancer, as well as boosting various cognitive functions and contributing to the health of the eyes. Oily fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna are rich in vital Omega-3 fatty acids as well as being great sources of protein—regardless of whether they’re fresh, frozen or canned.
-Fruits and Vegetables
Ensuring elderly people are consuming at least five servings of fruits and vegetables in their diet is extremely important. Both are low calorie food sources, packed with nutrients and fibre. While we all have our preferences, some of the most beneficial fruit and veg for elderly people include dark-skinned fruits like blackberries, red grapes and plums (all typically full of antioxidants); leafy green vegetables such as kale, broccoli and spinach; and apples. Again, don’t be scared to stock up on fresh, frozen and even tinned varieties.
Starchy foods are the primary source of carbohydrates for our bodies and typically make up a third of the food we eat—a dietary principal that should remain unchanged for the elderly. Try and include foods that are rich in starch – potatoes, bread, pasta – in lunch and evenings meals, as their fibrous qualities help with digestion and the general health of the intestines. We recommend choosing wholegrain varieties where possible.
-Beans, pulses and eggs
Try and include beans and pulses in at least one meal a day. These can include lentils and chickpeas, as well as a range of beans such as kidney, butter and cannellini. They’re all highly nutritious, low-fat sources of protein and iron that provide a healthier alternative to fattier cuts of meat. If you’re buying tinned pulses, then it’s best to opt for low-salt and sugar options. Eggs are also a low-calorie source of protein, iron and Vitamin D – a single egg can contain up to 6g of protein and 40 IUs of Vitamin D – and help to raise the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol levels in the body.
Vitamin B12 deficiency affects up to 15% of adults over 60. Why? The digestive system’s ability to absorb protein-bound vitamin B12 decreases with age. Lack of this vital nutrient has a huge impact on both the blood and central nervous system. While young people are certainly susceptible, the effects are even more pronounced in the elderly. This can include anemia, tingling or numbness in the extremities, fatigue, poor balance, and memory loss.
-Calcium, Vitamin D, and Magnesium
All three of these nutrients are essential for maintaining strong bones and muscles. Strong bones and muscles are crucial for avoiding falls and fractures associated with age as well as osteoporosis.
These vitamins and minerals all work together: bones require calcium for strength, vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, and magnesium helps available calcium make its way through the blood stream.
We need Iron in our diets as it helps to produce Hemoglobin – a key component of the circulatory system that helps the blood to transport oxygen. Elderly people actually require less iron in their diets than those under the age of 50, and the chance of an iron deficiency in fact decreases as we get older. However, it’s still important to look out for the symptoms of iron deficiency in your role as a carer. It can lead to depleted energy levels, and the potential symptoms might include tiredness, muscle weakness and shortness of breath. If the person you’re caring for is displaying these symptoms then you should consult a GP.