How Our Nutrition Needs Change With Age

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Nutrition needs change as we get older, and thanks to advances in medicine and technology, many of us are living longer — today the average 65-year-old is expected to live almost 20 more years. Part of living a longer, more productive life is eating well to maintain good health. This can be tricky because as we age, along with physiological and psychological changes, our tastes and nutrition needs change, too.

Here are some of the biggest nutritional shifts that happen as we get older, and ideas for how to adapt to them.

Metabolic Slow-down

As we age, our metabolism slows down, so our overall energy requirements decrease. Men over age 50 require closer to 2000 calories, while women over age 50 require around 1600 calories (down from 2200 calories for men aged 31-50 and 1800 for women aged 31-50).

Slower Digestion & Decreased Absorption

Our ability to digest and absorb nutrients changes as we age, which has a direct influence on how much or how little we need of certain nutrients. We lose muscle mass and bone density and our immune systems becomes less adept at fighting off disease. To combat these natural processes, it’s important to nourish efficiently. In other words, get the most nutrients per calorie. Make protein-rich foods, such as chicken, fish, lentils and beans, a daily staple. Ensure that a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, which support both bone and immune health, are eaten at every meal.

Functional Changes

Changes in physiology, such as taste, smell, and our ability to chew and swallow, can impact the foods we enjoy. Foods that used to be favorites may no longer be tolerated. Allowing for these changes in food preferences is key, as is being open to new flavors and textures of foods.

Chronic Disease Considerations

Many older adults have chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, that require medication. These medications can impact the taste of food, as well as its digestion, absorption, metabolism and excretion. Physicians and dietitians can help you navigate which medications have these effects, and they can help provide the appropriate solutions to ensure adequate nutrition.

Stress & Social Connections

Changes in family dynamics, such as the loss of a loved one, can make it difficult to keep a healthy eating pattern. Maintaining a social network or some social connections enables seniors to have a support system in times of hardship. Some examples of networks are religious communities, family and neighbors, but there are many others. Support systems jump in to help out, and can mean the difference between getting three square meals, or no food at all. It can be tough to build a support system overnight, so making efforts to keep connections throughout the later years is important.

Other Challenges

Accessing and preparing food can become more challenging due to financial and transportation limitations, or changes in mental ability. A support system is helpful in these situations as well, but there are also many community resources that can help seniors in need. Local senior centers, as well as programs such as Meals on Wheels, help thousands of seniors every day.

Recognizing natural changes, and understanding how they influence eating habits, is essential when it comes to making sure we, and our loved ones, eat well and stay well.

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