Today is Senior Citizen’s Day, a day to thank the older adults in our lives and recognize their contributions to families, communities and society. It is also a day to bring awareness to issues that affect the aging population, including changing nutritional needs. According to the World Health Organization, nutrition is an important factor in prevention of diseases common in the elderly such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Due to factors such as reduced food intake and limited variety of foods consumed, the aging population is often nutrient deficient. In honor of Senior Citizen’s Day, make sure you and your loved ones are getting the nutrients needed to support healthy aging.
Older adults are at a greater risk for dehydration. Ensure that you are drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day starting with first thing in the morning, as well as between and during meals. Beverages like water, coffee, tea and milk all count towards keeping you hydrated! Be sure to limit beverages with too much added sugar or salt.
It is common to lose muscle and strength as you age. This can lead to weakness, fractures and overall poor health. Consuming high-quality protein helps your body maintain muscle and prevent muscle breakdown, known as sarcopenia. Examples of high-protein foods include dairy foods such as Greek yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese and milk.
A diet high in fiber can relieve constipation and may prevent diverticular disease, a condition that is especially common in older adults. Fiber may also reduce your risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. High-fiber foods include fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, beans and peas.
Calcium & Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D are especially important for older adults to maintain bone health. It is recommended that older adults consume three servings of calcium-rich foods or beverages per day. Enjoying dairy foods like cheese, yogurt, and milk are one of the best ways to meet calcium and Vitamin D requirements. For those who are lactose intolerant, reach for lactose-free milk, aged hard cheeses like Cheddar or Monterey Jack and yogurts with live, active cultures.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), increased potassium (along with decreased sodium) intake can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Increasing your potassium intake can lower your risk of high blood pressure, osteoporosis, kidney disease and heart disease. You can incorporate more potassium in your diet by including fruits and vegetables and dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese.
As you age, your body reduces the ability to absorb vitamin B12, a vitamin that is needed for nerve function, DNA synthesis and the formation of red blood cells. Sources of vitamin B12 include lean meats and fish, fortified cereals and milk, yogurt and cheese.
There are many challenges facing the aging population and good nutrition, including decrease in appetite, limited budget and inability to prepare healthy foods. Focusing on a diet that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats and dairy foods will ensure that seniors are getting the nutrients they need.
Stephanie Hodges is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in public health and nutrition. She is the founder and owner of The Nourished Principles where she consults with schools, non-profit organizations and food companies on a variety of public health nutrition projects. Prior to founding her business, Stephanie provided technical assistance to school divisions to adhere to nutrition regulations, wrote and implemented grants for non-profit organizations and assessed and developed programs and policies to support nutrition, health and wellness.