Eating healthily is important for growth and development in all stages of life, and the elderly are no exception. Due to the multiple physical changes that occur with ageing, the elderly are at risk from a number of nutritional deficiencies, many of which can be easily treated with a healthy, balanced diet.
Dietary needs of the elderly
Elements important in the diet of the elderly include foods rich in protein and vitamin B12. The older adult should take in 1 to 1.25 grams of protein per 1 kilogram of body weight per day. Since the body's ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases with age and vitamin B12 is found in many types of meat, foods to focus on include liver, beef, fish, chicken, pork and eggs. These foods, along with walnuts, avocados and seeds, are high in omega-3 fats, all of which help improve brain function and reduce inflammation.
The pensioner's diet can also fall short of calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B6 and riboflavin. Since calcium and vitamin D work together to make strong bones, it is important to obtain these recommended doses each day. Foods rich in calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B6 and riboflavin include bananas, yoghurt, chicken, spinach, fortified cereal, milk, beans, fish and whole grains.
What to watch
Salt is added to food to improve taste. While sodium is a fundamental need for the human body, too much can create high blood pressure and heart failure, especially in the elderly. As the sense of taste and smell decreases with age, it is common for the elderly to add extra sodium to their diet. Use salt substitutes and salt-free seasonings, herbs and spices to flavour food instead of salt.
Another element to watch in the diet of the elderly is vitamin A. Even though many older people take in less than the recommended amounts per day, supplements are not usually needed, because with age the liver processes this vitamin to a lesser degree, making the daily requirement less. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, making toxicity a concern if intake exceeds metabolism.
Sample meal plan
An average day's meal plan can start with a breakfast of 1 cup of cooked oats with 1 tablespoon of wheatgerm and one banana. A mid-morning snack can be a yoghurt and 180 ml of pure fruit juice. Lunch can be a bowl of chicken mushroom noodle soup, 1/2 cup of stir-fried spinach and one glass of water. For an afternoon snack you can enjoy a sardine roll with tea of your choice, and for dinner try 85 g of steamed fish, 1/2 bowl of watercress soup, 1 bowl of rice and a glass of water. At the end of the day, before bedtime, have three or four wholewheat crackers and 1 cup of Horlicks or Ovaltine with added milk.
Exercise may slow the effects of ageing and improve health. Exercise along with a healthy diet keeps bones strong, increases muscle strength and helps maintain balance and stability. Choosing an activity you love will not only make exercising more fun and exciting but will also help you burn calories.
Many other factors impact the quality of an older person's meals. Lifestyle changes, social and economic transitions and medical conditions contribute to whether a pensioner can afford or has access to the foods he or she needs to maintain a healthy diet. Extra effort is essential when choosing foods that are best for optimal health.