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Eating and the elderly:What people should know

A few subtle and easy dietary changes can help seniors maintain both their health and lifestyle.

Parents often hear about the need for their children to eat a healthy and balanced diet. But what about the parents of those parents? As people age, a balanced diet remains important.

For seniors, maintaining a healthy diet is very important as they head deeper into their golden years. Oftentimes, maintaining a healthy diet means making changes to the existing diet to counter the changes in body composition experienced as you grow older. Because the body will gradually lose bone and muscle while gaining fat as a person grows older, these changes can go a long way to helping older people maintain current health.

•Keep protein a part of the diet. As people grow older, protein becomes more important, in large part because protein helps to maintain a healthy immune system and prevents the wasting of muscle. Discuss with a physician the various ways in which the person can incorporate high quality proteins, such as fish, eggs and poultry, into their diet.

•Make sure the person is eating enough carbohydrates and fiber. A diet with the right amount of fiber will help them avoid problems such as constipation. Carbohydrates are necessary because they provide a good source of energy, something seniors need if the person hopes to maintain a more active and less sedentary lifestyle.

•Continue to consume calcium. Bone diseases such as osteoporosis can be the result of calcium deficiency, and most seniors will admit their calcium intake isn't what it should be. Since osteoporosis weakens bones and makes them more susceptible to breaking, consuming calcium is essential for seniors to avoid potentially debilitating breaks. Seniors who don't like the taste of milk or other dairy products, can consider a calcium supplement or regularly include broccoli, a good source of calcium, in their diet.

•Drink enough water. Dehydration is common among seniors due to the reduction in the body's overall water content. Regardless of thirst, seniors should drink water with each meal. Oftentimes, low water levels in the body can result in fatigue. How much water a person should drink depends on individual body weight, so consult with a physician and stick to his or her recommendations.

•Don't eliminate fat from the diet entirely. While it's important for seniors to limit their fat intake, fat remains an important energy source, so eliminating fat entirely is not a good idea. Low fat dairy products and lean meats are good sources of fat, which also provide necessary vitamins to maintain health. Also consider what foods and preparations the fat is coming from. If the preferred method of preparing meals is frying, that should be eliminated, as it will only lead to excessive fat intake.

Most of these changes are manageable and will help seniors maintain a healthy lifestyle as they age. However, consult a physician before making any modifications.

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