Helping Older People Eat Healthier

Work & Family Life, February 2018 | Go to article overview

Helping Older People Eat Healthier


As we grow older, we tend to burn and, thus, need fewer calories. But the body's need for some key nutrients stays the same or rises as the years go by. This is a challenge for older people who should somehow be eating less and, at the same time, eating better.

The fact is that many older Americans are malnourished-not in the sense of people starving in a famine. Instead, they have "subclinical deficiencies" that lessen the body's ability to maintain itself as well as possible.

Essential nutrients

For example, many older people get too little vitamin B6, which helps to keep the immune system functioning well. And most older adults consume too little vitamin D, which preserves bone density. Too little D may not lead directly to broken bones, but it accelerates the bone loss that occurs naturally with aging and increases the risk for osteoporosis.

If you are concerned about an older relative's diet, here's a guide from the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy to the nutrients your loved one may need more of-along with some suggestions for how to consume more of these nutrients through food sources on a daily basis.

Calcium. It strengthens bones and teeth and also helps regulate blood pressure. But the body's ability to absorb calcium declines as we get older. After age 50, the recommended daily amount (RDA) is 1,200 milligrams, and the average person gets about half that much.

Food Sources: Milk, yogurt, canned salmon, sardines with bones, calcium-fortified orange juice, broccoli, kale and beans.

Folate. It reduces blood levels of a substance called "homocysteine" that is associated with increased risk of heart disease. Folate helps with red blood cell formation and may also help brain function.

For adults, the RDA for folate is 400 micrograms, and older people do not need more. But the importance of folate rises with age because the risk for heart disease is also rising.

Food Sources: Green vegetables, beans, fortified grain foods.

Riboflavin. It helps keep the skin and oral tissues healthy. It's good for the eyes and it allows enzymes to release energy from food. …

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