With increasing age, the energy requirements of the body decrease. Physical activity reduces, a sedentary lifestyle sets in, and old age is often compounded by diseases like cardiac complications, hypertension, and diabetes. The gastrointestinal tract also ages and certain foods tend to be very difficult to digest. Tastes in food also change with age and the elderly often tend to be very fussy eaters. A dietician needs to take all these factors into account while prescribing a diet to meet the nutritional needs of the elderly.
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On average, males over 60 may need a daily intake of 2300 calories, and females need around 1900 calories. A diet plan for the elderly should ensure the following:
- Enough hydration: Often the elderly cut down on drinking water to prevent frequent visits to the toilet. Constipation often is the result of a lack of hydration. The elderly should ensure to drink 6-8 glasses of fluids in the form of water, soups, fruit drinks, and milk.
- Exercise: The elderly should endeavor to maintain moderate exercise levels. The exercise routine can be in the form of walking, stretching, yoga, tai chi, cycling, and low-impact aerobics. Exercise is essential to prevent muscle deterioration, prevent excess fat accumulation, and tone the digestive system.
- Supplements: While vitamin supplements are often prescribed for the elderly, there is always a natural option available in the form of organic fruits and vegetables available to meet the vitamin needs of elderly persons.
- A diet plan for the elderly should include small servings of meals at regular intervals. It is advisable to eat a light dinner early to ensure proper sleep. Meals should be broken down into 6 meals at regular intervals instead of 2-3 large meals a day. Diabetics should ensure to avoid staying hungry as this results in large variances in blood glucose levels.
- A balanced diet for the elderly should include foods from the following groups on a daily basis:
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1.Fruits: Citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, melons, peaches, papaya, and apples are pulpy fruits and are easy to chew and safe for the elderly.
2. Vegetables high in Vitamin A and C content like carrots, spinach, avocado, and tomatoes are prescribed to provide a balance of nutrients in the diet.
3. Fish: Coldwater fish like tuna, salmon, and mackerel are rich in omega acids and should be served lightly steamed or grilled.
4. Nuts and seeds: Unsalted seeds and nuts like walnuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sunflower, and flax seeds are rich in antioxidants. They can slow down the aging process by renewing and regeneration of cells.
5. Pulses and grains: Whole wheat, wheat germ, lentils, black-eyed peas, and chickpeas meet the protein needs of the elderly. They should be cooked in such a way that they do not lose their nutrients and get digested easily.