The nutritional needs of seniors are very different than the needs of a teen. Special nutrients are needed to help keep seniors strong and healthy. If you are not eating a balanced diet, you can easily become nutrient deficient.
Vitamins and Minerals
Dietary habits change, and a lack of one food can mean the difference between being healthy and unhealthy. As we age, there are a few nutrients that we start lacking primarily because our diet is poor. The nutrients that most seniors are lacking, but are required to maintain to meet their nutritional needs are:
- Calcium. An important nutrient for bone health. Calcium can be obtained from fortified cereals, canned fish, milk and leafy greens.
- Vitamin D. Spend 15 or 20 minutes per day out in the sun, and your Vitamin D levels will be fine. If not, you’ll want to maintain a diet very similar to the calcium diet listed.
- Fiber. A lot of seniors flock to prunes because it helps them “go.” Staying regular is very important as you age, and it can help lower your risk of heart disease. Fiber can come from beans, peas, fruits, vegetables and even oatmeal. Enough fiber added into your diet will also help prevent Type 2 diabetes.
- Potassium. High blood pressure can be lowered and controlled with a proper diet. You can reduce sodium, eat higher amounts of potassium and lower high blood pressure risks. Potassium can be found in a variety of foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
- Vitamin B12. The majority of people over 50 don’t get enough Vitamin B12 in their diet. In fact, B vitamins are very important for brain development and health, yet a lot of people – despite age – are lacking in Vitamin B. Lean meat, fish, seafood and fortified cereals are all great options to add Vitamin B12 into your diet.
- Healthy fats. Don’t fall for those fad diets that put your diet on the brink of being unhealthy. A lot of people were under the assumption that all fats are bad for them, but that’s not true. You need an appropriate mix of healthy fats in your diet to keep your heart healthy.
Of course, a nutritionist is the best person to help with a senior’s dietary needs. Blood work can help a nutritionist find what nutrients a senior is lacking.
Caloric Needs and Requirements for Seniors
Caloric needs are different for everyone and as seniors age their metabolism will begin to slow down. This means that they may need a lower caloric intake than they did when they were younger because they can’t burn as many calories at rest.
A general rule of thumb for males over 70 is that a healthy diet with a caloric intake of 2,000 calories is sufficient for a sedentary lifestyle.
Males that are more active will want to consume 2,400 calories per day to sustain a healthy weight. Females will be required to eat less with a diet consisting of 1,600 – 2,000 calories for a female that leads a sedentary lifestyle.
Protein will be an important part of any diet and allows for proper muscle maintenance and growth.
Everyone suggests a different protein level with some recommending:
- 56g of protein for men
- 45g of protein for women
Others recommend 0.5 grams or higher of protein per pound of body weight. Proteins can come from supplements, but they can come from beans (fiber), fish (omegas and minerals), meats and other natural sources.
Remember that these protein sources are also a great source of other vitamins and nutrients.
Fiber levels are important, as mentioned earlier, and these levels should be in line with the following:
- 28g for a male
- 22g for a female
If you keep eating fiber, you’ll notice that more bowel movements are produced, bloat is eliminated and most people start to feel overall better. It’s all about getting your body moving so that you maintain a proper bathroom schedule.
There are guidelines that recommend different vegetable and fruit requirements,
An easy way to try and make sure that you eat enough of different foods is to:
- Use a large, flat plate
- Divide the plate in sections
- Fill half of the plate with fruit and veggies
- Fill the other half with grains and some protein
If you follow this division, you’ll have a fairly diverse diet. You can also use this method to reduce the number of calories you consume. For example, all you need to do is fill your plate as mentioned and then remove 10% – 20% of the food.
This will reduce the number of calories you’re eating to help you lose weight.
A few of the best tips that help seniors stay on track to meet their nutritional needs are:
- Eat a lot of healthy fats
- Eat whole grains to add fiber
- Drink more water
- Eat foods that are rich in calcium and B vitamins
If a senior has a health problem that can be combated with proper dietary changes, it’s important to follow the advice of doctors or nutritionists. This may include changing your diet to lower blood pressure, improve heart health or lower your risk of diabetes.
Dietary changes are a long-term solution, so expect the changes you make to take some time before they start producing the results you seek. And don’t be afraid to add supplementation into the mix to help you meet your dietary goals.
This can means adding in protein shakes, vitamins and other nutrients.
Tim is a professional caregiver who has helped hundreds of seniors gain back their freedom and independence. He has been actively helping the senior community for 20+ years.