Eating well is essential in all stages of life, but it’s especially important for maintaining good health and slowing the aging process in older adults. Nutrition influences the risk of contracting acute and chronic diseases, and it affects the physiological and biological processes of aging.
The basic requirements for a healthy diet are similar for older adults and other age groups. What differs is the amount of each nutrient that older adults need. This is unique to adequately support older adults’ energy needs, physiological and psychological functions, and overall health. Let’s take a look.
We can divide nutrients into two broad categories: macronutrients (those that we need in larger quantities) and micronutrients (those that we need in small quantities).
The three basic macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and lipids (fats and oils).
Older adults are at risk for malnutrition if they don’t ingest the proper quantities of these nutrients. This might be due to a sedentary lifestyle, decreased food intake, or reduced energy expenditure.
Protein: In addition to calories, protein provides amino acids that are essential for wound healing, skin elasticity, preserving muscle and tissues, and the ability to fight infections. As adults age, there are noticeable changes to body composition. Skeletal mass decreases, immune function may decline, and skin elasticity decreases. Adequate intake of protein helps prevent these changes.
The recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for adults are 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. Sources of protein include fish, poultry, beef, pork, legumes, eggs, and milk.
Carbohydrates: A primary source of energy and calories, carbohydrates are made up of sugars and starches, and we can find them in most food. For optimal health promotion and disease prevention, the majority of dietary carbohydrates should come from complex, unrefined carbohydrates, such as grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruits. Approximately 45%-65% of daily calories should be in the form of complex carbohydrates. The RDA for carbohydrates for people over age 51 is 130 grams per day.
Lipids: Fats and oils are a primary source of energy and provide more calories per gram than any other calorie source—9 calories per gram. Types include saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans-fatty acids. Fats are an essential part of a healthy diet as they help in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Monounsaturated fats help to manage our blood glucose levels, and polyunsaturated fat is essential for brain health, strong bones, good vision, and healthy skin. Saturated fats support our vital organs and immunologic system, and they also strengthen cell membranes and bones. We want to avoid trans-fats.
Ingesting the proper amounts of lipids is extremely important at all ages, but it’s even more important in aging adults!
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals required in small quantities to ensure normal metabolism, growth, and well-being. Since no single food contains all of the vitamins and minerals we need, we have to acquire these micronutrients through a balanced diet. And we can also get some vitamins through proper supplementation.
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