Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on March 5, 2001. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Nutritional needs change with age
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Neglecting nutritional needs at any stage of life is risky, but for senior adults, the results could reduce their quality of life significantly.
Melissa Mixon, human nutrition specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said older adults should watch their diets closely, especially if they are prone to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis.
"Physical activity and eating right can extend your quality of life. As people age, their bodies can lose some of the ability to correct nutritional imbalances," Mixon said. "Multiple prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs can change the way the body takes in and uses various nutrients. They also can weaken a person's sense of taste."
Loss of appetite is common as the number of taste buds on the tongue declines with age. To help increase the enjoyment of foods, enhance flavors using moderate amounts of sugar, onions, salt, butter, herbs, garlic, reduced stocks and flavored vinegars. Declining physical activity and energy can further reduce the desire for foods.
"Even if you aren't hungry, an adequate supply of nutrients like protein, vitamins and minerals is still important for good health," Mixon said. "Limit calories from fat to 30 percent or less. More than half of your calories should come from carbohydrates such as breads, pastas, cereals, sugars, beans, fruits and vegetables."
Mixon said vitamins C, E and beta carotene are thought to have anti-oxidant properties. Calcium is essential for older adults. Calcium increases bone mass and reduces the rate of bone tissue loss.
"Vitamin D has been linked to calcium absorption. Fortified milk and low-fat milk products, as well as liver and some fish, provide vitamin D," she said.
"Because they are concerned about dietary needs, many older Americans are susceptible targets for a wide variety of products marketed under false nutritional claims," Mixon said. "Some people may need supplements, but a doctor or nutritionist should be the one making that assessment."
She said unnecessary and ill-advised purchases of supplements not only deprive an older person of funds that could be spent for essential foods, but they also can lead to excessive and potentially toxic levels of certain vitamins and minerals.
For seniors who live alone or who don't enjoy cooking like they once did, Mixon suggested preparing food and freezing smaller portions for future meals. Commercial brands of frozen entrees also offer a wide variety of nutritious meals.