NUTRITION FOR OLDER AMERICANS
As we age our nutrition needs vary a bit. In order to stay healthy, it is important to make sure we eat a variety of foods, get enough protein, calcium, fluid and fiber. Sometimes getting proper nutrition can be challenging because our Caloric needs decrease and our tastes and appetites change.
Protein: Getting enough protein in your diet is important for your body’s immune system to fight off infections and illness, as well as its ability to repair and maintain body tissue and muscle mass. Generally women and men over age 50 should consume 60-75 grams of protein a day. This amount can vary depending upon your weight and any diseases that are present. For older Americans that are healthy, typically 0.45 grams of protein per pound of body weight is adequate. Consult with a registered dietitian (R.D.) to determine the correct amount for you.
Protein can be found in the protein and calcium groups of the food guide pyramid. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and nut butters, dried beans or legumes, tofu and other soy products, cheese, milk and yogurt are excellent sources of protein. Two servings (about 6 ounces total) from the protein group and 2 servings from the calcium group provides 55-60 grams of protein, which should be adequate for most people as there will be some additional protein coming from grains & vegetables.
Calcium is not just for women. Calcium is important for the health of bones and teeth, as well as muscle contraction and relaxation. Calcium may help play a role in decreasing hypertension (high blood pressure), colon cancer and kidney stones. The recommended amount of calcium for men and women over age 50 is 1200 mg per day (see Osteoporosis article). This is equivalent to four 8-ounce glasses of milk. Consider using low-fat and non-fat dairy products so you don’t take in more fat and Calories than you need.
Getting enough calcium from food can be very challenging. You may want to consider using foods fortified with calcium and/or a calcium supplement. If you choose to use a supplement consider taking one made out of calcium citrate. As we age our stomach acid is reduced and calcium citrate may be better absorbed. Calcium supplements can be constipating, so be cautious with the amount you take.
Fluid is extremely important for older Americans to prevent dehydration and constipation. Dehydration is the most frequent causes of hospitalization among people over 65 years. As we age our thirst mechanism doesn’t work as well, so we don’t feel so thirsty even when we need fluid. You need at least six to eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid each day. You will need more fluid if the weather is very hot or cold or if you are running a fever, have diarrhea or are vomiting. Be careful with consuming a lot of juice and soda as your fluids as they can bring in extra calories that your body may not be able to use.
Some people who have trouble “holding their water” don’t’ drink enough fluids because they are afraid of not being able to get to a restroom in time. It is important to drink enough fluid so you don’t become dehydrated. Consider taking advantage of restrooms whenever they are near, even if you don’t have the urge to void.
Fiber is an important component of your diet as it can help with constipation and may help decrease the risk for colon cancer and lower cholesterol. Sources of fiber include whole grains, such as whole grain cereals, breads and pasta and brown rice. To ensure these grain products are good sources of fiber, make sure the label says “whole grain” or “whole wheat” not just “wheat bread”. In addition, fruits, vegetables, dried beans or legumes and nuts are also good sources of fiber.
Be sure to add fiber gradually to your diet and increase the amount of fluid you consume to avoid gastro-intestinal cramping and bloating. Physical activity can also aid in helping with constipation.