When we age, we have to eat well and adjust our eating habits. As we get older, our needs for certain nutrients will change significantly. We produce less saliva, and our swallowing reflexes slow down.
As a result, food may not be as easy to digest and to swallow. Many of us experience changes in taste and appetite as we get older, so we may eat less.
We also have less stomach acid, that means, we don’t digest foods or absorb some nutrients as well as we used to.
An Israeli study that looked at 414 elderly patients in hospitals found that less than 20%
were well nourished. The study also found that those with poor dietary habits had less successful outcomes from their visit to the hospital. But even with this information and other studies available, doctors don’t always think to check for nutritional deficiencies in older adults.
This is unfortunately, because a simple lack of nutrients can easy be mistaken for a more serious illness. Nutritional deficiencies in older people can even be misdiagnosed as dementia.
Vitamin B12 is essential for maintaining healthy blood and nerve function. It’s also one of
the nutrients that requires adequate amounts of stomach secretions in order to be absorbed.
when acid levels decline, getting enough vitamin B12 can be a problem.
This is of particular concern for people who use antacids. You can get plenty of vitamin B12 from meats and other animal foods. Clams are the best source of vitamin B12.
One small steamed clam provides an astonishing 9 micrograms of vitamin B12, more than
100% of the DV.
Apart from vitamin B12 deficiency, many people in their late fifties and older may be deficient in vitamin B6. Chickpies and potatoes are good sources of vitamin B6.
One cup of chickpeas contains 1.1 milligrams, slightly more than halve of the DV.
A baked potato provides 0.6 milligram, or about 1/3 of the DV.
Another B vitamin that’s important for protecting the cardiovascular and nervous systems
is folate, which is found in green vegetables, beans and whole grains. A cup of canned pinto beans, for example, provides 144 milligrams of folate, or more than 33% of the DV.
Asparagus is also a good source of folate. One cup of cooked asparagus contain
263 milligram of folate.
As your bones get older, it’s essential to get extra calcium and vitamin D to prevent them
from becoming brittle. Many older people think that they can’t eat dairy foods because they are ‘lactose tolerant’, but in fact, most people can eat moderate amounts of dairy without trouble.
Low-fat and fat-free (skim) milk, cheese, and yogurt are your best sources of calcium.
One cup of fat-free yogurt contains 415 milligrams of calcium, or 41% of the DV.
One glass of fat-free milk provides 302 milligrams or 30% of the DV.
Iron is one of several minerals that can be hard to get in the correct amount. Some people
don’t get enough, while others get too much. Women’s need for iron declines in their later years after they stop menstruating.
To ensure that you’re getting the right amount of nutrients for your particular needs, i
t’s best to talk to your doctor to find out whether or not you need to take supplements of certain nutrients, such as iron, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.
Even though we may need to eat more of certain foods in order to live longer, researchers
are finding that the opposite can also be true: people who eat less may live more years.
A Louisiana State University study followed 48 people for 6 months as they either followed
a normal diet or different types of calorie restricted diets. It found that prolonged
calorie restriction can lower people’s fasting insulin levels and their body temperature,
which are both markers of longevity.
Experts think that calorie restriction “resets” your metabolism so it works more efficiently,
and your body shifts its focus from growth and reproduction to long term survival.
and when you take less calories, your body produces less free radicals as it turns food
However, it’s hard for humans to reap the benefits from calorie reduction that lab animals
have shown. For those among us who like to eat, it’s probably not a viable strategy.
In addition, drastically reducing your calories without medical supervision can leave you
For now, a good way to get some benefit from calorie reduction is to make sure that you
eat a “prudent” diet that provide the nutrients you need without excessive calories.
If you do decide to restrict your calories, talk to your doctor to make sure your diet
meets your nutritional needs. See also my article about Flavonoids