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Nutrition for Older Adults

As we grow older, nutrition and physical activity continue to be of significant importance. Healthy food and regular exercise can delay or even inverse many of the problems related to ageing and help you enjoy a good quality of life.

1.Important Nutrients for Older Adults
As older people often think they need less food than younger ones, yet recommendations for certain numbers of nutrients are greater for older people, such as the nutrients noted below:

• Protein: it is essential to maintain and repair body tissues, and also provides energy. Aim to have at least 1-2 servings/day of protein-rich foods from low fat meats such as fish, red meat, chicken, eggs, legumes (lentils, beans and peas), seeds and nuts.

• Calcium: it is an essential nutrient as we grow older, since it can help prevent fractures and osteoporosis. Aim for 3 servings/day of foods rich in calcium such as yoghurt, Milk, cheese, calcium-fortified soy milk, tinned fish (with bones), almonds, hazelnuts, legumes and whole grains.

• Vitamin D: it helps our bodies to absorb calcium from food. The best source of Vitamin D is sunlight since it’s very difficult to get enough from your diet alone. Try to get out in the sunlight for at least 30 minutes a day, before 11am and after 3pm. Foods rich in vitamin D include lean meat, eggs, oily fish and dairy products.

• Folate: It helps reduce the risk of illnesses such as heart disease and even some cancers. Macrocytic anemia, is a type of anemia resulting from not having enough folate, which can make you feel irritable, tired, weak and possibly give you palpitations. That’s why you should include plenty of dark colored vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fruits and fortified juices and cereals in your diet.

• Water: As we age our body’s water content decreases, increasing the risk for dehydration. Here’s some strategies to encourage fluid consumption:
o Don’t rely on thirst, but rather have fluids regularly during the day
o Make liquids readily available all day by carrying containers such as small bottle of water wherever you go
o Drink more fluids while taking medications
o Have a minimum intake of 1.5 L

• Vitamin B12: it is needed for normal blood and brain function. However, deficiency can produce a variety of symptoms, including shortness of breath, low energy, pale skin, palpitations and tiredness. The majority of our vitamin B12 comes from animal foods; have at least 1 serving of eggs, meats and dairy foods or fortified foods.

2.Ideas for Improving Appetite
As you age, it’s important to maintain a good weight. However, poor teeth, eating alone, illness, medications, difficulty shopping can leave you without much of an appetite. Here are some ideas for improving appetite:
• Have small meals and snacks rather than being faced with a huge plate of food.
• Try having your main meal in the middle of the day as you’ll have more energy to prepare and eat your meals.
• Try adding extra milk powder to milk and milky drinks, such as tea, coffee and hot chocolate and creamy soups. This will give you extra protein and calcium without adding bulk.

3.Preventing Constipation
Constipation can be caused by certain medications, not being very active, not drinking enough fluids or not eating enough high fiber foods.
• Eat plenty of high-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables, legumes, wholegrain or whole meal breads and cereals.
• Have at least 6-8 glasses of fluids a day, including water, tea, coffee and milk to help the fiber work effectively.
• Try to be active every day

4.Keeping Active
Exercise is important in helping reduce the risk of falls and maintain balance as we age. However, level of activity will depend on your mobility and fitness level. An easy way to get moving is to add more activity into everyday life:
• Walk wherever you can, rather than driving.
• Gradually increase your activity as fitness improves.
• Aim for 30 minutes or more of moderate activity most days.
• Find something you enjoy, to keep you motivated such as yoga, outdoor walking, swimming, aqua-jogging and aqua-aerobics.

Christelle Bedrossian
Beirut, Lebanon

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Dietitian Christelle Bedrossian