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A Senior's Guide to Nutrition

By Joel Williams

The science of gerontology, or the study of normal aging, is still new, and science is giving us new insights into aspects of aging that in the past have been accepted as "normal." While there is a similar pattern of changes that takes place among all humans as they age, these changes can occur at different rates in different individuals. We do not know how much of this difference is due to genetic make-up, and how much is due to lifestyle factors such as diet.

There is abundant evidence to show that an optimal level of nutrition can extend the lifespan and improve the quality of life. A large body of research examining the health of vegetarians, who typically consume a diet that is lower in calories, saturated fats, and protein, but higher in fiber and phytochemicals than non-vegetarians, shows that vegetarians suffer from less heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. Vegetarians also tend to live longer than non-vegetarians.

Good eating habits throughout life can help to promote physical and mental well-being. For older people, eating right can help to minimize the symptoms of age-related changes that, for some, can cause discomfort or inconvenience. Although the aging process affects some people differently from others, everyone can benefit from exploring a well-planned vegetarian diet.

Very little is known about how the aging process affects the body's ability to digest, absorb, and retain nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and minerals. Therefore, little is known about how the nutritional needs of older people differ from those of younger adults. Recommended nutrient intakes for seniors are currently extrapolated from those of younger adults.

One point that is generally agree upon, however, is that older people tend to take in less energy, or calories, than younger people. This may be due, in part, to natural decline in the rate of metabolism as people age. It may also reflect a decrease in physical activity. If the total intake of food decreases, it follows that intakes of protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, and minerals also decrease. If calorie intake is too low, then intakes of necessary nutrients may also be low.

Many other factors can affect the nutritional needs of older people and how successful they meet those needs, including their access to food. For instance, some of the changes that take place as people age can affect the kinds of foods they can tolerate, and some can affect their ability to shop for or prepare food. As people age, problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes become more common, necessitating certain dietary modifications. Digestive system problems become more common, and some people may have trouble chewing or swallowing.

Generally, current dietary recommendations for adults also apply to older people. Here are some helpful guidelines:

Limit:

Sweets

Regular coffee and tea

Greasy or fatty foods

Alcohol

Oil, margarine, and "junk" foods

Other saturated fats

Salt

Eat Plenty Of:

Fruits

Whole grain breads and cereals

Vegetables

Drink plenty of fluids, especially water

Joel Williams is a recognized authority on the subject of senior citizens. His website, http://www.seniorlivingmatters.com provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on everything you'll ever need to know about senior living.

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