When our bodies get older, we begin to experience a variety of changes due to nutrient deficiencies, decreased quality of life and poor health. This is due to the decline of one’s lean body mass and basal metabolism, which in turn causes a reduction in energy requirements. Although this is a natural process of ageing, there is an inherent risk of one become susceptible to loss in appetite and that could lead to malnutrition. This in turn could lead to more complications to the ageing body.
Hence, it is important to monitor the dietary intake of the elderly. This article focuses on the essential nutrients to stay healthy, not only for the geriatrics but also the general populous.
Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for the body. Simple carbohydrates are sugars like glucose and sucrose, while complex carbohydrates are starches. Sugars are commonly found in fruits and vegetables as glucose and fructose, or in processed sugar as sucrose. Starch however is found in foods made with wheat, such as bread or pasta, and in other crops such as rice and potatoes.
Protein is used as energy by the body for growth and strength maintenance. It’s important for building muscle, so protein is especially important for older adults. As we age, we begin to lose muscle mass and thus become weaker. Some people can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass per decade after the age of 30. This can lead to difficulty for older adults when performing certain physical tasks. Some great sources of protein are meat, eggs, fish, and legumes like nuts and beans.
Fats are an essential part of a balanced diet, as they are used as energy by the body to insulate it and keep it warm. There are several types of fats which are found in food, with the four main groups being monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, trans fats, and saturated fats. The unsaturated fats, are the healthy ones. Saturated fats and trans fats however are unhealthy.
Monounsaturated fats can be found in almonds, avocados, and olive oil. Polyunsaturated fats can be found in walnuts, soybean oil, and fish like tuna and salmon. Saturated fats are found in most meat products like beef or bacon, as well as in dairy products and butter. Trans fats are mostly found in processed foods like fried foods and baked goods. It’s recommended to lessen, if not entirely avoid consuming trans and saturated fats as you grow older and keep track of unsaturated fats.
As we get older, our digestive system slows down. The walls of the gastrointestinal tract thicken and the contractions are slower and fewer which may lead to constipation. Eating fibre-rich foods helps bowels move regularly, lowering the risk of constipation. A high-fibre diet can also lower the risk for many chronic conditions including heart disease, obesity and some cancers. Good sources of fibre include, wholemeal/wholegrain bread, breakfast cereals such as shredded wheat, bran flakes and pulse vegetables like beans, peas and lentils.