An Introduction To Nutritional Needs For The Elderly

By:    Published: January 18, 2012

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The dietary recommendation guidelines are used as a general standard for most adults. However, as people grow older, their health needs can change. Seniors are given certain dietary recommendations that are different from other adults. In addition to getting more of certain nutrients, seniors may also need to shift their food choices in order to help prevent certain diseases and conditions.

Special Nutritional Needs

One of the main differences in nutrition for older adults is that the same amounts of nutrients are needed, but the body requires less energy. Because seniors often don’t burn quite as many calories as a more active adult, they need to get the same nutritional value but without consuming as many calories. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), older men and women who are not active need only 2,000 and 1,600 calories per day, respectively.

Nutritional Options For The Elderly

There are many healthy options for older adults that can provide these individuals with the nutrients they need without consuming too many empty calories (foods like cookies, chips and soda, which contain many calories but little nutritional value). Seniors should include some of the following foods in their daily diet:

  • Grains: Daily intake should be limited to 5-to-10 ounces of grains. One ounce is equal to about one slice of bread, one cup of cereal, a ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta or a small muffin.
  • Meats and beans: Daily intake should be limited to 5-to-7 ounces. One ounce is equal to about one egg, a tablespoon of peanut butter or a 1/ cup of cooked beans. A three-ounce portion of meat, poultry or fish is about the size of a deck of cards.
  • Fruits: Daily intake should be at least 1.5-to-2.5 cups. A half-cup is equal to a medium-sized whole fruit or a ¼ cup of dried fruit.
  • Vegetables: Daily intake should be at least 2-to-3.5 cups. Cups should be measured by amounts with chopped vegetables.
  • Milk: Daily intake should be limited to 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk. One cup of milk can also be substituted with a cup of yogurt or 1.5-to-2 ounces of cheese.
  • Water: Make sure to drink several large glasses of water every day. Your urine should be a pale yellow color – darker urine signals that you’re not getting enough water in your diet. (For more on urine color, read Important Things Your Urine Color Can Tell You.)

Finally, seniors should keep in mind that their dietary needs may be different if they suffer from a chronic health problem, such as diabetes or heart disease. Certain medications may also necessitate specific dietary requirements. Ask your doctor about any special dietary needs you may have if you are an older adult.

Preparing Healthy Meals

Taking steps to improve your nutrition is not just about food choices. It’s also about how you prepare meals. For the elderly, preparing meals in a certain way can greatly benefits their health and reduces the number of calories they consume while still keeping the nutritional benefits intact. A few tips for healthy meal preparation are:

  1. Use limited amounts of oil while cooking. The best oils to use are those which contain mostly unsaturated oils, such as canola oil and olive oil. According to the National Institutes of Health, a person who should be consuming about 2,000 calories per day should limit the oil they use to no more than 6 teaspoons a day.
  2. Use low-fat versions of your favorite products, including salad dressings and dairy products. This switch can greatly reduce your calorie and fat consumption. You can also choose leaner cuts of meat and cut off any extra fat before you cook them.
  3. Limit the amount of salt you add to your food. Adults over 50 only need about 2/3 of a teaspoon of table salt each day, including the sodium already included in the foods you eat. To help decrease your salt intake, look for low-sodium foods when shopping. You can also utilize other spices and herbs to add flavor to your food as a substitute for salt.
  4. Instead of frying, try other cooking methods with your food. Stir-frying, steaming, baking and broiling are all good options for healthy meal preparation.
  5. If you choose to eat out or buy pre-packaged foods, look at portion sizes carefully. This will help you when determining your caloric intake. This information can be found on the nutrition label on packaged foods. Portions when eating out tend to be quite large, so consider taking part of your meal home to eat another day.

Benefits Of Healthy Eating

There are many benefits of eating healthy, some of which are rather surprising. For instance, did you know that eating right can help with digestion? Getting enough fiber and fluids in your diet will help prevent constipation.

In addition, eating healthy can also help older adults avoid many of the diseases and conditions which they are at an increased risk for due to their age, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, bone loss and certain types of cancer. A healthy diet can also help these individuals manage chronic diseases and lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

Older adults who find they are gaining more weight may discover that switching to a diet recommended for seniors helps to control their weight gain. Eating the right number of calories each day and being sure to get proper nutrition can help prevent joint problems, maintain a healthy weight and provide added energy.

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