One of the biggest factors for maintaining health and well-being for seniors is a nutritious diet.
A lot of people are not aware of the transformations the body goes through with age that require a lifestyle adjustment in order to keep up good health.
Nutrition plays a significant role in both physical health, and cognitive function and ability.
In spite of the tremendous importance nutrition has for overall senior health, it still doesn’t seem to get the kind of attention it deserves.
Why is nutrition more critical for seniors?
There are several reasons why older adults should be taking a more active interest in their diets.
A lack of attention to daily nutritional can have all kinds of negative health effects, like:
- Reduced cognitive function and memory
- Decreased strength and mobility
- Loss of vision and/or hearing
- Reduced immune function
These are all quite serious effects, that can have a significant impact on independence and daily living.
Special Nutritional Requirements for Seniors
Not only should seniors make a general concerted effort to eat better, they should also take into consideration physical changes that make focusing on certain nutrients more important.
Some of the suggested nutrients to target for seniors, recommended by nutritional experts and health professionals, include:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
Water is considered an essential nutrient because the amount of water produced by the body is naturally exceeded by the amount it needs to properly function.
Seniors are already at a disadvantage because of lower water content in the body. This means older adults should be making an extra effort to stay hydrated. Two litres of water a day is the bare minimum, as seniors should be pushing for three litres a day or as much as they can comfortably consume.
Health problems and medications can also contribute to dehydration, which should also be taken into consideration.
Fiber is crucial for maintaining regular digestive function and heart health. Fiber is predominantly found in plant-based foods like fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
Some of the benefits of a fiber-rich diet may include:
- Healthy digestive system
- Blood sugar regulation
- Weight management
- Skin health
- Lower cholesterol
- Cardiovascular health
A deficiency in fiber can result in the toxins that are supposed to removed from the body through the bowels, being reabsorbed back into the bloodstream, resulting in a variety of health problems.
This vitamin is important for seniors because it plays a role in many vital bodily functions, like DNA synthesis, red blood cell formation, and nerve function.
B12 deficiency can be difficult to detect, but some of the symptoms associated with it might be:
- Pale or jaundiced skin
- Muscle weakness
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Tingling sensation or nerve damage
- Reduced mobility or coordination
- Anxiety, depression, mood disorders
Vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal-based foods, which puts vegetarians at a higher risk to be deficient in the vitamin.
Foods high in B12, include fish, seafood, beef, poultry, organ meats, fortified cereal and nutritional yeast, eggs, and dairy.
Another vitamin that is critical to senior health is vitamin D. Vitamin D is needed to build and maintain strong bones and teeth.
Some good sources of vitamin D, include:
- Cod liver oil
- Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, or tuna
- Beef liver
Vitamin D is also used by the body to help absorb calcium, to promote healthy bone growth and development.
Calcium is an essential mineral that works in cooperation with vitamin D to build strong bones and teeth.
Calcium can be found in:
- Dairy – milk, cheese, yoghurt
- Beans and lentils
- Leafy greens
Seniors lacking in calcium intake may experience muscle aches and cramps, fatigue, skin problems, osteoporosis, dental issues, and depression.
Another essential mineral important for senior health is potassium. Potassium is required for every living cell to function properly.
Potassium is also necessary for balancing out other minerals in the body like sodium.
High levels of sodium in the body can lead to health problems, such as high blood pressure, dehydration, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.
Regular potassium intake helps balance out sodium to healthy levels. Potassium can be found in foods like:
- Fruit – bananas, avocados, oranges, melons
- Vegetables – spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, cucumber
- Beans and legumes
A healthy lifestyle for seniors starts with a nutritious diet, and is complimented by regular physical activity, social interaction, and quality sleep.