Nutritional Suggestions for Older Adults
Senior Specific Nutrients
by Elicia McMullen, RD
If eating for vitality and wellness is your goal, then proper nutrition is your best ally! Obtain proper nutrition through a well-balanced, whole-food diet. It’s important to make sure you get everything you need. The nutrients below are “senior specific” and are recommended to help you meet your special requirements.
– Calcium & Vitamin D are essential to maintain strong bones and teeth. —Protect them by eating at least 3 servings of calcium rich foods such as low fat milk, cheese yogurt, greens, broccoli, sardines, canned salmon with bones, beans dried peas, tofu and calcium fortified foods. If you have problems digesting milk,
Drink lactose free or reduced milk, eat yogurt or cheese (the lactose has been broken down.) Drink a smaller amount of milk or buttermilk at a time, eat other calcium-rich foods that are not milk-based.
– Vitamin D—is needed for the absorption of calcium and maintaining overall health. It is found in milk, fatty fish like tuna, salmon and mackerel, cod liver oil and fortified cereals. Most seniors don’t get enough of the sunshine vitamin. Your body makes its own Vitamin D when skin is exposed to the sun. It is recommended to take a walk or sit in the sun for at least 20 minutes several times a week without sunscreen. People can increase their intake by eating vitamin D–fortified foods; and may also need to take a vitamin D3 supplement.
– Fight Disease by eating a plant rich diet! Vitamins E, A, C, vitamin K, and Potassium found in a plant rich diet helps decrease the risk of high blood pressure, cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Keep “Bad fats” at a minimum too. The “Mypyramid for Seniors” emphasizes eating at least 3 servings of deeply colored vegetables such as green, orange and red veggies (carrots, peppers, sweet potatoes, spinach, and broccoli) and 2 of fruit (berries, melon, citrus.) These are all great sources of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and phytochemicals which keep your body’s cells healthy
The My Pyramid for seniors also depicts bags of frozen veggies that make preparing and storing these foods easier. Nuts, nut butters (the good fats/mono-saturated), whole grains, vegetable oils to make salad dressings (added in moderation) are also rich sources of vitamin E. For maximum health benefits, large amounts of saturated fats and all trans-fats (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats/oils found in processed and bakery products) are discouraged.
– Eat protein and iron rich foods– As we age, we lose lean muscle mass. The good new is you can continue to build lean muscle no matter what age if you continue to be active, exercise and eat the proper amount of protein. 2-3 servings of protein rich foods are recommended. Examples are: eggs, poultry, meat, nuts, nut butters, beans (legumes.) and dried peas
Keep your red blood cells healthy and energy levels up by including iron-rich foods in your diet such as meat, poultry, fish, beans, cereal and whole grains.
Fiber—or roughage is important to have a healthy digestive system, proper bowel function and promotes heart health. Foods high in fiber tend to be more nutrient-rich. Great fiber sources are legumes (beans), whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Go for 20-35g fiber a day.
– Vitamin B12— Is required for healthy red blood cells, and nervous system function. Vitamin B12 deficiency has been associated with pernicious anemia, memory loss, lack of energy, Alzheimer’s disease and neurological impairment. Vitamin B12 deficiency becomes more common with increasing age, as many people lose the capacity to produce stomach acid, which is necessary for vitamin B12 absorption.
Good sources of vitamin B12 are fish, shellfish, meat, and dairy products. An example of a day’s supply of vitamin B12 can be obtained by eating 1 chicken breast, plus 1 hard-boiled egg. plus 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt, or 1 cup milk. Speak with your doctor to determine if B12 supplements or injections would be beneficial.
– Fluids— A good rule of thumb is to drink eight, 8-ounce glasses of water per day. The “thirsty cues” also diminishes with advancing age, leaving seniors vulnerable to dehydration. As a reminder to stay hydrated, the pyramid shows a row of 8 water glasses.
– Exercise—The Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults also emphasizes the importance of staying physically active in later years. Great activities for seniors are walking, doing chores, gardening, dancing, swimming and tai chi.
– Ask your doctor about potential interactions
Many seniors take medications that may be impacted positively or negatively by adding supplements to the mix. If this is true for you, look for a healthcare practitioner knowledgeable in nutritional medicine to help you learn about potential drug-nutrient interactions and supplement recommendations that may best support your health.
For more information, contact Elicia McMullen, R.D. ShopRite of Niskayuna Elicia.McMullen@wakefern.com or 518.491.0050.
J Nutr 2008;138:5–11, Vit. B12 Mayo Clinic.com, Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults @ nutrition.tufts.edu
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