As people grow older, there must be nutritional requirement changes in order to maintain health and delay the effects of ageing and related diseases. Many physiological/physical changes might affect nutritional status. Body composition changes as fat replaces muscle, there is decreases in body mass and basal metabolic rate. Bones becomes vulnerable to fracture and osteoporosis. Women after menopause tend to lose bone mass at an accelerated rate. There are also sensory or oral changes. There is a decrease in sensitivity in taste buds for salty and sweet affecting appetite. Denture leads to decrease in chewing effectively without natural teeth. Insulin secretion decreases, affecting carbohydrate tolerance. There is reduced absorption of Vitamins specifically Vit B12 and Folic acid. Cardiovascular changes take place increasing hypertension and serum cholesterol. Lower immune function lessens ability to fight diseases.
There are also some psychological and social changes that affect the elderly because of the change in their status in society. These also may affect their appetite and nutritional status. Some of these changes may include depression, memory impairment, social isolation and in some cases alcohol abuse. Thus, food intake declines due to decrease in caloric requirements, it is important to ensure that elders eat nutritious foods. When food intake is reduced to maintain the weight, the nutrients intake also gets reduced, although their needs remain the same or even more.
A good diet and regular fitness regime reduces the risk of high blood pressure, heart problems, cancer, anaemia, bone loss, high cholesterol, constipation and type 2 diabetes. It also helps in combatting changes due to old age. The general tips include:
- Going for a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.
- Consuming healthy fats like fatty fish, nuts, seeds, walnuts, vegetable oils, almonds, olive oil etc.
- Healthy snacking should be encouraged at regular intervals.
- Drinking plenty of fluids and you are hydrated.
- Trying to consume whole grain foods like brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole grain cereals than refined grains.
- Consuming more protein as compared to carbohydrates. Some of the protein sources are eggs, beans, fish, chicken, legumes nuts and white meat.
- Including fat free milk and milk products. According to the doctors at least 4 cups of milk a day is needed which is equivalent to 1200 milligrams per day.
- Eating smaller meals a day instead of large heavy meals.
There is less room for empty calories from sweets, fatty foods and alcoholic beverages, as they are less nutrient dense. There is also another possibility. A sensible programme of exercise like walking may be advisable. When people are physically active, they spend more calories and can take in more food, with which more nutrients are consumed. Supplements are not necessary when varied foods are consumed. However, it becomes difficult, when food consumption reduces with physical activity and also limited types are consumed. Poor appetite may reduce protein intake or some severe disease may increase protein requirements. Exercise along with a diet high in calcium helps protect against osteoporosis. As said earlier, walking is the best exercise, but people may also enjoy swim, aerobics and other forms of exercise as per the capability and liking.