Healthy Nutrition for Older Adults, Part II:

April 5, 2015

 

5 Most Important Elements of a Senior Diet

 

In Part I of this series, we talked about the difficulties many older adults have in maintaining a healthy diet. Physical and lifestyle changes often lead to poor eating habits and even malnutrition. We also discussed how seniors’ caloric needs are less, so each calorie needs to have maximum nutritional value.

So let’s take a look at the five most important elements of any senior’s diet. By ensuring that you or a loved one have the following as a regular part of a healthy diet, you will go a long way toward reducing health risks:

  1. Fiber – We tend to think of dietary fiber as keeping us “regular,” but fiber has many more benefits. It can lower one’s risk for everything from strokes to diabetes and generally boost the immune system. Fiber promotes healthy digestion, which is important for older, less efficient systems. To get sufficient fiber in one’s diet, food choices should include lots of whole grains, fruits, nuts, leafy vegetables, and beans.

  2. Vitamins – The two most important vitamins that are often insufficient in older adults’ diets are Vitamins B and D. B12 is a critical component in replenishing red blood cells and helping maintain healthy nerve function. But older adults don’t absorb it from their diets as easily as young people, so it’s important to eat foods rich in B12, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and milk products. Folic acid or folate is another B vitamin often lacking in seniors’ diets, and a deficiency can lead to anemia. Fruits, vegetables, and fortified cereals can increase one’s folic acid intake. Vitamin D is essential for helping seniors absorb calcium and maintain muscles, and it reduces the risk of osteoporosis and some chronic diseases. Fatty fish, fortified milks, and egg yolks contain Vitamin D and can help older adults maintain adequate levels of this important vitamin. It’s a good idea to check with a personal physician to see if an vitamin supplements are needed to supplement what is available from a healthy diet.

  3. Minerals – Potassium, calcium, and magnesium are three vital minerals in which many older adults are deficient. Potassium maintains cell function and strengthens bones, and it has also been shown to reduce high blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables are the best dietary sources, including bananas, plums, prunes, and potatoes in the skin. A healthy selection of fruits and vegetables at each meal will provide the vast majority of individuals with sufficient daily potassium. Calcium is an important mineral primarily associated with bone health, which is critical in older adults, whose bones are more brittle. Three daily servings of milk or other dairy products, along with calcium rich vegetables such as broccoli or kale, will help most adults achieve the recommended daily allowance of calcium. Senior nutritionists also recommend daily yogurt