Archive for April, 2012

Nutrition and Aging

Posted on: April 20th, 2012 by admin

What would you do if something happened to a parent? Are you taking care of yourself to be able to care for your loved one and/or others in your life right now?

Are you, as an older adult, mindful of good nutrition to help you minimize the impact of chronic disease in order to maximize your individual quality of life and life with your loved ones?

Nutrition as we age….
Older adults are a growing number of the population. A significant number have an increased quality of life and productivity longer than those before. By nature of living longer we have more wear and tear on our bodies, inside and outside. Diseases that would have never manifested with a shorter life span or wouldn’t have worsened are now more prevalent. We are more ‘in the know’ with nutrition information yet older adults are just as likely to not follow good nutrition practices but some of the reasons why aren’t the same as for other age groups.
When we think of malnutrition, the older adult isn’t first thought of. Many older adults suffer from nutrient deficiencies. Our bodies don’t metabolize vitamins and minerals the way they did when we were younger. Medications, including common over the counter medications, compete for nutrients, affect appetite, and can displace good quality nutrition when competing for finances. Depression rates rise as a result of new living situations that were forced to occur. Isolation can result from a change in social connections or status.

As health declines older adults have more frequent infections and spend more time in hospitals. Being in and out of hospitals means more testing, more procedures or more frequent recovery periods where food and fluid intake and physical activity schedules are affected. Health events that were once considered small or minor are now feared for their potential to incapacitate. All of these can result in malnutrition either acutely or over time.
While the knowledge of nutrition and lifestyle are guides to the right food choices, the types of foods older adults purchase and consume will vary.Often, older adults are left alone to cook or live with others who provide meals and will turn to convenience foods which end up being higher in fat, calories, preservatives, sugar and sodium and are lower in fiber. Prepared meals may be well intended but the meals may not be accepted due to cooking style, taste or texture preferences. Meals provided to older adults may not provide the specific nutrients that are needed for that individual. Alternatively, a large number of older adults skip meals entirely as the task of preparing any meal is too overwhelming.

While there are many supplements available to help ward off extreme cases of nutrient deficiencies, our bodies primarily recognize and accept the benefits of real food. Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, calcium, fiber, iron and zinc are some common deficiencies as we age. Good food sources of these nutrients need to be included on a regular basis. Salmon and fortified orange juice are good sources of Vitamin D; skim milk, yogurt and cheese are good sources of Calcium; fortified cereals, beef and fish provide Vitamin B12; fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains provide fiber; and beef, shellfish and peas are good sources of Zinc. Zinc, in particular, is involved in taste function. As this nutrient declines it is a common reason for seemingly new food aversions. Increasing foods that are good sources of Zinc paired with low salt seasonings has shown to dramatically influence intake in older adults.

Nutrition is a powerful component of maximizing the quality of life as we age. Often, it is assumed changes are hard to make and maintain. While there are many challenges that compete for the focus on a healthy lifestyle at any age, with the right tools, the challenges don’t have to impact good nutrition, can easily fit into any lifestyle and will definitely make a difference!

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