Nutrition during Old Age


Old age is irreversible but we can ensure that even in our grey days we remain healthy and active. Nutritionists say, eating right can go a long way in helping maintain a more active and productive lifestyle.

As a person ages, the basal metabolic rate (the rate at which the body consumes energy) declines. This would reduce the need for energy in our diets. If we continue usual consumption of energy rich foods such as cereals, sugar, oil, butter etc. chances of developing obesity and subsequently diabetes, heart ailments etc. would increase rapidly. In fact these high energy foods are known to make one more sedentary therefore perpetuating the problem. So, these should be consumed in moderation. The requirements of proteins for the elderly are the same as that of a young person. In fact as some of the tissues degenerate with advancing age, it is good to consume proteins in the appropriate quantity. This will help provide the building blocks to regenerate some of these broken tissues and therefore maintain ones’ body. The sources of proteins are milk and milk products, meat, fish etc.

Carbohydrates are one of the major sources of energy. As energy requirements decline so should the consumption of sources of carbohydrates. Cereals in the form of rice, bread etc. should be reduced. One should move from consuming refined carbohydrates to more complex forms such as whole grains and fruit and vegetables. Another source of energy is fat. Though, there is no need to reduce the amount of fat in the diet (30% of all energy should come from fat), but if one is obese, it is good to cut down the intake. Also modification of the type of fat consumed is important. Saturated fats such as butter should be avoided while fats from fish sources would be more useful.

Calcium and vitamin D are critical for the aging body. Bone demineralization, which leads to weak bones, needs to be prevented and calcium and vitamin D are important for bone health. Milk and milk products should be consumed in moderate amounts to ensure a good supply of calcium in the diet. Sun shine is the best source of vitamin D but in case some elderly are confined indoors, supplements should be provided. Vitamin A, E and C are important to maintain immunity as well as prevent heart ailments and cancer by providing anti-oxidants. These vitamins are available from fruits and vegetables and therefore these should be consumed aplenty. Vitamins also provide the necessary fiber to prevent constipation. The last and one of the most important things is to ensure a good intake of fluids throughout the day. They keep the body clean and hydrated.

Some quick tips:

  1. Eat a variety of foods with lower amounts of carbohydrates and fats and higher amounts of fruit and vegetables.
  2. Break meals down into smaller sizes to aid digestion.
  3. The consistency of the food should be modified based on dental health.
  4. One should be physically active and should make at least some light physical activity a part of their daily routine.
  5. Start healthy eating earlier in life to ensure good health during old age.

Further reading

  1. Dr. Seema Puri, Nutrition in Old Age, Helpage India.

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