One of the pillars of good health is basic nutrition and diet for seniors. However, it can also be one of the more challenging areas with changes in an older person’s diet. Because of that, providers of home health care in California have come up with a guide on how to help your older loved ones eat right and stay healthy.
Understanding The Digestive Changes In Older Adults
The first thing to understand here is that an older person’s nutritional needs are different from younger ones. That is due to the various bodily changes during this part of their lives. Some of these changes include:
One of the most prominent changes would be an older person’s metabolism slowing down. That is because their bodies start using less energy than before, thus needing fewer calories. Because of that, your body does not immediately burn the food you eat, resulting in weight gain.
Changes In Your Digestive System
Your digestive system also undergoes a lot of changes as you age. This is the other significant factor affecting your nutritional needs. Here, your body starts producing less of the various fluids that aid digestion. It can make it harder for you to process and absorb nutrients like vitamins B6 and B12 and folic acid.
Another change in your digestive tract is slower contractions. These contractions are the ones that help move food along it. When this happens, it takes longer to move food through the colon. That can also lead to constipation, as more water is absorbed from waste.
Changes In Appetite
The above changes can also affect your desire to eat. You begin to have less desire to eat at times. Additionally, some medications that you might be taking can affect your overall appetite, resulting in less intake at times. These have a significant impact on how well you take in various nutrients.
It is also worth noting that your emotional health can affect your appetite. For instance, if you are depressed, you might have less desire to eat. On the other hand, stressful situations can lead to binge eating. Both these extremes can significantly affect your ability to get the right kind and amount of nutrition.
The Nutrients Seniors Need
Because of the above, you need to be particular about your nutritional intake once you hit your senior years. While you need more essential nutrients in general, you should also pay special attention to certain ones. These are the ones that will help you better cope with the various health concerns that emerge at this age.
Calcium And Vitamin D
One of the4 specific nutrients seniors like you need more of is calcium. As you age, your bones become weaker and more brittle. That can lead to a greater risk of injuries and conditions like osteoporosis. This nutrient will help you maintain strong bones and prevent such injuries.
Calcium can be readily found in food items like:
- Dairy products
- Dried beans
However, as you age, your body’s ability to absorb and process calcium also lessens. This is where getting the right amount of vitamin D is vital. This vitamin helps your body better absorb calcium. Thus, low calcium levels are often associated with insufficient vitamin D intake.
The most common way to get more vitamin D is to get out in the sun. The sunlight triggers the conversion of cholesterol in your skin into the vitamin. However, as you age, your skin gets thinner. That lessens its ability to make vitamin D on its own. As such, you should supplant it with foods rich in the vitamin, like fish, egg yolks, and milk. You may also want to take supplements like cod liver oil for the same purpose.
As you age, you also start to lose muscle mass. On average, you lose 3% to 8% of your overall muscle mass every decade after 30. That loss can leave you physically weaker in your later years, as well as making you more vulnerable to injuries.
Eating more protein will help you counteract this condition. Great sources of protein include various types of meat and dairy products. The Food and Nutrition Board recommends that older adults take at least 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight daily. To better use this protein, and fight off muscle loss, you also need to do resistance exercises. That helps build muscle fibers and strengthen your body as well.
This nutrient is considered a cleaning agent for the body. It improves your digestion and can also help improve bowel movement. Additionally, it lessens the chances of constipation. It can also help lessen the impact of other health conditions like high cholesterol and high blood sugar levels that can result in diabetes.
Men 50 years and older need at least 28 grams of fiber each day, while women need at least 22.4 grams. Foods rich in this nutrient include:
- Grains and cereals
- Legumes and beans
- Various fruits and vegetables
But don’t try to eat too much of these in one go. Instead, gradually increase your intake until you are at your desired levels. You should also drink enough water to ensure that the fiber moves through your body well.
While older adults require increased amounts of the various vitamins to maintain a healthy body, vitamin B12 is of particular importance. The vitamin helps you make more red blood cells, which improves oxygen transfer. Additionally, it contributes to healthier brain functions.
However, about 10 to 30% of people over 50 might have a hard time absorbing the vitamin. As such, you want your diet to have more foods rich in it to compensate. These include the right kinds of meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. You might also want to consult a dietician to determine if you need supplements.
Healthy Diet Strategies For Seniors
Of course, getting all of these nutrients is a bit challenging at your age. To achieve that, you need to have the right strategy. Here are two such strategies you can take advantage of.
USDA Food Guide MyPlate Plan
This is a simple and intuitive way to create a balanced diet for yourself. To wit, the guidelines are:
- Half of your plate should be fruit and vegetables
- At least half of your plate should be whole wheat grains
- Enjoy your food but eat less
- Compare sodium levels in foods and choose the lower numbers
Beyond these, you can incorporate additional rules that help match your specific nutritional needs. You might need to consult a dietician for these rules.
The DASH Diet
This diet plan is specifically designed to help lower blood pressure and focuses on heart-healthy food items. It encompasses all the key food groups. The recommended servings for these are as follows.
- Grains: 7 to 8 ounces
- Meat and beans: 6 ounces or less of chicken, meat, and fish plus 4 to 5 servings of nuts, seeds, and/or dried beans per week
- Milk: 2 to 3 cups
- Vegetables: 2 to 2.5 cups
- Fruit: 2 to 2.5 cups
- Oils: 2 teaspoons
As is with the above, you can tweak it to better match your or your loved one’s specific nutritional needs.
Let The Best Home Health Care In California Help You Towards Better Nutrition
At Amavi, we understand the importance of seniors getting the right nutrition they need. Thus, we have a team of diet experts that will guide you about proper diet. Sign up with us and get the best home health care in California to help you eat healthy during your senior years.