Perspectives on Senior Nutrition

May 4, 2018

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

 

Seniors are a rapidly growing segment of the US population, it’s a clear demographic trend and it affects all industry sectors in an increasingly significant manner. 18.5% of the US population is currently over 60, and the number is increasing as the baby boomer population gradually retires.

One distinct area related to the aging population that we’d like to discuss today is senior nutrition. There are many aspects to be analyzed, and we will concentrate on the most recent proper nutrition guidelines for the senior population. Besides the growing number of seniors, there is the poignant issue of food insecurity. A disturbingly large number of seniors in the United States are food insecure, which means that they not getting enough nutritious food – whether because of financial reasons, physical inability to cook properly or a lack of awareness. In fact, over 5 million seniors are estimated to be food insecure in the United States. That’s where initiatives such as Meals on Wheels and Senior Grocery Programs throughout the United States come in, and they are always keeping track of the quality of food they are providing. In fact, the food banks are required to comply with certain nutritional standards for their clients, making sure they are providing their clients with a reasonable set of nutrients and reducing the amount of potentially harmful ingredients. So, what are the most recent scientifically viable ideas about senior nutrition?

First of all, it’s important to understand what physiological changes occur in older adults, changes that require a person to alter their approach to nutrition.

Reduction in caloric needs

With age, older adults generally lose lean body mass due to a decrease in physical activity. Thus, the nutrients that a senior requires need to be delivered with a smaller number of calories, which can be tricky.

Quality protein is essential

Once again, due to the loss of lean body mass, body protein is lost too. As a result, people generally grow frailer with age, and their immune system also loses some of its protective qualities. This makes quality protein intake crucial, and all the more difficult to attain in the old age, since many people’s resources are limited at an older age, and high quality proteins tend to be expensive. These include seafood, white-meat poultry, quality cheese, lean beef, beans, eggs, dairy products.

Decreased absorption of B-12

Vitamin B-12 levels play a significant role in supplementing the mental function. In seniors, mental function is something to monitor closely, and any supporting mechanisms that can be engaged, should be engaged.

Decreased bone density

Bone density decreases with age, making seniors notoriously prone to bone breakage. Thus, calcium and vitamin D intake comes to the fore. Access to foods that prevent a rapid development of osteoporosis, which is especially aggressive in post-menopausal women, is essential in senior health.

HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) and the USDA release new dietary guidelines every five years, with the 2015 set being the most recent one. One of the general current concerns in regard to the United States population eating habits is obesity, and the recommendations address this issue along with other ones that are specific to the senior population. It’s still mostly about eating better and moving more, reducing sodium, sugar, solid fat, refined grain intake. Cholesterol levels are no longer heeded as much attention according to the latest scientific research, thus cholesterol–rich foods are no longer to be entirely avoided, just limited.

Specific recommendations that target older Americans are as follows:

  • Seek to maintain current weight, or lose weight in case of obesity.
  • Keep daily sodium intake under 1500 mg.
  • Consume foods fortified with vitamin B-12.

It’s always difficult to change dietary habits, but changing them in the later period of life may be next to impossible. That does not, however, mean that it is an impossible feat, and it’s best to attempt to embrace the practices that are best for your health.

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