During each stage of life, you require specific nutrients to ensure optimal health. As you age, your body requires different nutrients, in different amounts than it previously did. Many factors influence the types of nutrients that are required or those who are lacking in the diets of older adults, including physical conditions and social issues. Each person is an individual, and so each person's needs are different, however there are some universal changes that take place in the aging body that lead to an increased demand for certain nutrients.
Macronutrients and Calories
According to Alice H. Lichtenstein, director of director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, older adults need fewer calories as they age because they expend less energy as the metabolism slows. Tufts has published a modified nutritional pyramid that emphasizes nutrient-dense foods, including whole grains, high-protein lean meats, colorful vegetables, unsaturated fats and plenty of fluids. Specific calorie needs vary based on height, weight and age, but older adults should aim to consume around 0.8 to 1 g of protein per 1 kg of body weight.
Micronutrients that are of greatest importance for older adults include calcium and vitamin D, which are important for bone health; fiber for gastrointestinal health; and potassium for blood pressure maintenance. Other micronutrients may be of importance if you have a specific health concern, in which case you should ask your doctor or consult a dietitian.
Medical Conditions Affecting Nutrition
Many medical conditions influence nutrient needs and intake. For example, if you have poorly fitting dentures or missing teeth, you may not be able to eat certain foods. Cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other diseases will also greatly impact the types of foods required and consumed. Many medications also interfere with appetite or mouth taste, making adequate consumption of nutritious foods a challenge. Ask your doctor if there are alternatives to the medications you believe to be causing a problem or ask about supplementing with a vitamin-enriched nutritional shake. Often, you can meet your nutritional needs through a combination of diet and supplementation but be sure to consult your physician or registered dietitian for guidance.
Social Issues Affecting Nutrition
Social issues such as depression, eating alone, accessibility of meals and ability to afford healthy foods are problems that are often prevalent in this population. Aging adults may have lost the ability to drive to the grocery store, or lost the motivation to cook for just one person. The Older Americans Act of 1965 was passed by congress in response to these types of concerns. The bill provides funding to local agencies that provide meals to older Americans, such as the Meals on Wheels program and congregate meal site. Contact your local Meals on Wheels office to see if you qualify for assistance.