The body composition of man is always in a dynamic state and hence keeps changing, especially in old age. This affects the nutritional requirements of the body and hence healthy eating can be a challenge particularly for the elderly. Also, in old age the hormones start losing their activity, thereby making the body lose muscles and bones and gain fat. There are some factors, which if kept in check, can help all of us lead a healthy life.
In elderly people, the intake of fat should be limited. This can be achieved by making small changes in your diet like choosing lean meats, low-fat dairy products and cutting out fried food. It is important to note that fats should not be totally eliminated from the diet. Since at this age the body starts to lose muscles, proteins become a crucial part of the diet plan. It also helps in building up a healthy immune system.
High-quality proteins like eggs, poultry and fish should be included in the diet. Carbohydrates are a major source of energy. However, it is important that older people choose carbohydrates that are high in fiber since it will also help in preventing constipation.
Another major part of our diet is water, which normally gets neglected. As we grow old, the body starts to lose water and hence dehydration becomes a common problem. It is recommended to drink at least 1 ounce of water per 2.2 pounds of body weight.
Micronutrients like minerals and vitamins are also important. Iron deficiency is very common in old people. It gets aggravated by the fact that the elderly tend to lose appetite and hence eat less food that results in less intake of iron. This can be avoided by incorporating lean red meat and breakfast cereals in the diet.
Calcium is another mineral that is normally deficient in the elderly. The recommended intake is about 1500 mg per day. Elderly normally avoid milk, a rich source of calcium, thinking that it will cause stomach upset. There are other rich sources of calcium like low-fat cheese, yogurt, broccoli etc. Another option is to use low fat powdered milk as a substitute for milk.
Zinc intake has been found to be less in the case of older people. Also, it does not get absorbed well in the body. The answer to tackling zinc deficiency is by incorporating meat, poultry, and fish in the diet plan.
Vitamin B12 is another critical micronutrient that is commonly deficient in the elderly, more so since it needs an intrinsic factor for it to be absorbed by the body. Our stomach produces this intrinsic factor. Most of the elderly suffer from a condition called atrophic gastritis, which causes stomach inflammation and bacterial overgrowth. This results in less production of the intrinsic factor and hence less absorption of Vitamin B12.
The key to a healthy life as a senior citizen is in staying active and eating a balanced diet. With adequate care and required nutrition, you can ensure that your retirement years become a boon and not a bane.