Eating a healthy, balanced and a nutritional diet is important at any age. However, when it comes to old age, it becomes even more essential. In the course of the natural aging process, the basal metabolic rate, lean body mass, and energy requirements of the body start dropping and the body itself becomes vulnerable to malnutrition. There could be many reasons for the inadequate supply of macronutrients and micronutrients in the elderly, such as loss of appetite, difficulty in eating, lack of interest in eating etc. Even the food they eat isn’t processed so well, and the actual micronutrient uptake in the body could be vastly inadequate too.
Now, as we all know how important these micronutrients are in our body, it is understandable that the lack of them can lead to chronic diseases like Diabetes, Osteoporosis, Cardiovascular diseases etc. Therefore, it becomes more necessary for people after a certain age to ensure an optimal supply of essential fatty acids, proteins, fiber, vitamins, and minerals in their diet or through supplementation.
Let’s learn about some of the nutrients required by your body in adequate amounts as you get older:
- Protein: It has been observed and studied that elderly people lose muscle mass at a greater rate than in early age, and also put on body fat easily. This age-related loss of lean muscle is known as Sarcopenia. To avoid sarcopenia, an adequate amount of protein is required in the daily diet. The elderly must focus on consuming at least 1.5 gms protein/kg body weight a day.
- Vitamin D and Calcium: A balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D helps in prevention as well as treatment of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become weak, fragile, and are more likely to break. Adequate intake of calcium is very important for good bone health and vitamin D is needed for the absorption of this calcium from food.
- B-Vitamins: Intake of B vitamins such as B6, B12, and folate usually falls short in elderly people. Low levels of these vitamins elevate the risk of cardiovascular diseases, anaemia, and Alzheimer’s. Also, B12 is essential for creation of new red blood cells and DNA. So a good intake of B-vitamins through food and supplements is essential with advancing age. Do take a look at Vitamin B12 and its benefits with the Fitmag article on B12 deficiency here: “Veganism = Vitamin B12 deficient?“
- Fiber: As elderly people are vulnerable to many chronic diseases, to prevent them, fiber plays a very important role. Sufficient intake of fiber has proven to lower the risk of coronary heart diseases and stroke, and in addition, prevents gastrointestinal disorders, normalizes bowel movements and even helps control the blood sugar levels. So, a good intake of green veggies, whole grains, and high fiber food is recommended. To know more about the importance of fiber, you can read the detailed Fitmag article here: ‘“I’m Constipated” – Well, no more!‘
- Omega 3 fatty acids: EPA & DHA, the polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, have proven to help maintain the health of the elderly people because of their anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They also help in the maintenance of cognitive abilities and prevent the development of Alzheimer’s. High intake of fish like salmon and tuna, which are high in Omega 3 fatty acids is beneficial, and other dietary powerhouses like flaxseeds, walnuts, soya beans, and supplements like fish oil capsules can be taken to maintain the levels of these essential fats.
- Potassium: Lack of potassium can cause muscle weakness, nausea, high blood pressure, heart diseases, stroke, and arthritis. Thus it becomes important to have optimal levels of potassium in elderly people. Green leafy vegetables and yoghurt are good sources of potassium. They can source themselves with potassium supplements as well. To know more about the benefits of potassium and rich sources of this mineral, take a look at the Fitmag article that deals exclusively with this topic: “Why you need Potassium“
When it comes to well-being and good nutrition, the older adults indeed have to take utmost care of these nutrients. However, regardless of your age, a well-balanced diet with all the macronutrients and micronutrients must be maintained. A good way to start is by understanding what macro and micronutrients are present in the various foods we eat, so you can read up more about it at “Macros 101“.
It’s often said, “Eat well to age well”. So no matter what stage of life you’re at, never compromise on nutrition!
Author Credits – Kanika Gupta
Fitness and Nutrition Expert