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Nutrition for Healthy Aging

Why is nutrition important?

As you get older, good nutrition can help lessen the effects of diseases such as osteoporosis, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and digestive problems. It can help you feel better, recover faster from illnesses, and possibly spend less time in the hospital.

Unfortunately poor nutrition is one of the most common health problems in older adults. Over time, poor diet and lack of exercise can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other health problems.

What can cause poor nutrition in the later years?

You may not eat a healthy diet because:

  • You do not eat as much as you should because you don’t like eating alone or you have a lack of desire or ability to cook.
  • Missing teeth or poorly fitting dentures make it hard to chew some foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • You avoid dairy products because milk and cheese give you gas or constipation.
  • You are taking medicines that affect your sense of taste or even cause a loss of appetite.
  • You feel that you cannot afford to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, or meat.

As people age, changes occur in the body that can affect nutrition. Your body does not absorb nutrients as well as it used to, so you need to take in more nutrients to get enough. It may be hard to get all the nutrients you need if you eat only small amounts of food. You may not need as many calories as you used to, so you need foods that provide vitamins and minerals without too many calories. These include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, beans, peas, lentils, fish, eggs, and low-fat cheese.

Many older people have medical problems and some may need a special diet, for example:

  • a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet for heart disease
  • a low-sodium diet for high blood pressure
  • a low-calorie diet to lose weight.

Special diets often mean extra effort, but instead you may prefer foods that are quick and easy to prepare. These foods may provide too many calories or contain too much fat and sodium.

How can I prevent poor nutrition?

To help prevent poor nutrition:

  • Read food labels to help you make healthy choices.
  • Avoid using too much salt by limiting canned and other packaged foods. Add less salt when you cook or eat.
  • Eat a variety of foods to get the calories, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber that your body needs.
  • Eat plenty of high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.
  • Cut down on high-fat foods.
  • Drink nonfat or low-fat milk and eat other low-fat dairy products to get plenty of calcium to keep your bones healthy.
  • Keep plenty of easily prepared, nutritious foods handy to snack on.
  • Try eating smaller amounts more often all through the day.
  • Ask your provider if you should take a daily vitamin and mineral supplement.
  • When eating out, choose restaurants that offer a heart-healthy menu.
  • Use a microwave oven to make cooking easier.

Family members and friends can help older people by:

  • contacting agencies or organizations such as Meals on Wheels or the Area Administration on Aging
  • helping with grocery shopping
  • preparing foods and taking them to the older person
  • joining the older person for meals.

Talk with your healthcare provider about a healthy weight based on your height and age. Try to stay near that healthy weight by exercising and eating nutritious foods. A good nutritionist can help you with your diet. Nutritionists are available for consultation through your local senior center or healthcare facility.

How much should I weigh?

There is a wide range of healthy weights for any particular height. Also, being fit and healthy are more complicated than just having a good weight. Still, no matter what medical problems you have, there is a range of normal healthy weights for your height. Check with your healthcare provider to see if you should be concerned about your weight.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-08-14
Last reviewed: 2010-06-27
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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