Nutrition: It’s a Way of Life
have trouble chewing.”
“Food just doesn’t taste the same anymore.”
“I don’t have a car to go shopping.”
“It’s hard to cook for one person.”
“I’m just not that hungry anymore.”
familiar? These are some of the common reasons older people
stop eating right. And that’s a problem because food provides
energy and nutrients everyone needs to stay healthy. Nutrients
include proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals,
and water. As you grow older, you may need less energy from
what you eat. But, you still need just as many of the nutrients
Should I Eat?
many different healthy foods. Pick those that are lower in
cholesterol and fat, especially saturated fat (mostly in foods
that come from animals) and trans fatty acids (found
in some processed foods, margarines, and shortenings). Avoid
“empty calories” as much as you can. These are foods and drinks
with a lot of calories, but not many nutrients—for example,
chips, cookies, sodas, and alcohol.
are a way to measure the energy you get from food. If
you eat more calories than your body needs, you could gain
weight. Most packaged foods have the calorie counts listed
on the labels.
How many calories each day for
people over age 50?
||1,600 calories, if her physical activity level
1,800 calories, if she is moderately active
2,000-2,200 calories if she has an active lifestyle
||2,000 calories, if his physical activity level
2,200-2,400 calories, if he is moderately active
2,400-2,800 calories, if he has an active lifestyle
more physically active you are, the more you might be able
to eat without gaining weight. Most people should have at
least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days
of the week. Regular physical activity will help all areas
of your life as you grow older.
Much Should I Eat?
Dietary Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) encourage people to eat a suggested amount from five
major food groups every day. If you can’t do that, at least
try to eat something from each group each day. Lower fat choices
are best. Make sure you include vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain
foods. Eating the smallest amount suggested will give you
about 1,600 calories a day, the largest number has about 2,800
Dietary Guidelines suggest:
ounces; some choices are:
to 31/2 cups with a variety of colors and types of vegetables
roll, slice of bread, or small muffin,
cup of cooked rice or pasta, or about 1 cup (1 oz.) of ready-to-eat
to 21/2 cups
yogurt, and cheese—3 cups of milk:
- 1 cup
of yogurt equals one cup of milk,
to 2 ounces of cheese equals one cup of milk,
- 1 cup
of cottage cheese equals 1/2 cup of milk.
poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts—5 to 7 ounces of
lean meat, poultry, or fish:
cup of cooked beans or tofu, 1 egg, 1/2 ounce of nuts or
seeds, or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter—each can count as
one ounce of meat.
day eat only small amounts of fats, oils, and sweets.
eating foods from the grains group, try to include at least
3 ounces from whole grains.
manufacturers put more than one serving in a package or
eating plan suggested by the Dietary Guidelines is called
the DASH Eating Plan. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to
Stop Hypertension. See the resources at the end of this Age
Page for more information on DASH.
You Less Interested in Food?
your favorite chicken dish taste different? Does Aunt Molly’s
pea soup suddenly seem to need salt? The flavor of the food
is probably the same as always. With age your sense of taste
and sense of smell may change. This affects how foods taste.
They may seem to have lost flavor.
are other reasons food may not taste the same. Some medicines
can change your sense of taste or make you feel less hungry.
Maybe you have slowed down a bit, so your body needs fewer
calories. Maybe chewing is difficult because your dentures
need to be adjusted or your teeth or gums need to be checked.
You might want to pick softer foods to eat.
I Need to Drink Water?
just water. You need to drink plenty of liquids like water,
juice, milk, and soup. You have to replace the fluids you
lose every day. But check with your doctor if he or she has
told you to limit how much you drink.
wait until you feel thirsty to start drinking. With age you
may lose some of your sense of thirst. In addition, medicine
can sometimes cause you to lose fluids. If you are drinking
enough, your urine will be pale yellow. If it is a bright
or dark yellow, you need to drink more liquids.
you have a urinary control problem? If your answer is yes,
don’t stop drinking a lot of liquid. But, talk to your doctor
for help with your urinary control problem.
fiber is found in foods that come from plants—fruits, vegetables,
beans, nuts, seeds, brown rice, and whole grains. It is the
part of plant foods that your body cannot digest. Eating more
fiber might help you avoid intestinal problems like constipation,
diverticulosis, and diverticulitis. It might also lower cholesterol
and blood sugar and help you have regular bowel movements.
you are not used to eating a lot of fiber, add more fiber
to your diet slowly to avoid stomach problems. The
best source of this fiber is food, rather than dietary supplements.
When adding fiber, remember:
cooked dry beans, peas, and lentils often.
skins on your fruit and vegetables if possible.
whole fruit over fruit juice.
whole-grain breads and cereals.
lots of fluids to help the fiber move through your intestines.
I Cut Back on Salt?
(sodium chloride) is the most common way people get sodium.
Sodium is naturally present in most foods, and salt is added
to many canned and prepared foods. The body uses sodium to
keep the blood, muscles, and nerves healthy. Too much is not
good, however, and can make your blood pressure go up.
people eat a lot more sodium than they need. If you are over
age 50, aim for 1500 mg of sodium—about 2/3 of a teaspoon
of table salt. That includes all the sodium you get in your
food and drink, not just what you add when cooking or eating.
If your doctor tells you to use less salt, cut back on salty
snacks and processed foods.
adding spices, herbs, and lemon juice to add flavor to your
food. Also make sure your diet is rich in foods containing
potassium. That will help counter the effects of salt on your
blood pressure. Some foods that have a lot of potassium are
leafy green vegetables, fruit from vines like tomatoes, bananas,
and root vegetables like potatoes.
in your diet gives you energy and certain vitamins. But too
much fat can be bad for your heart and blood vessels and can
lead to heart disease. Fat is also high in calories.
lower the fat in your diet:
lean cuts of meat, fish, or poultry (with the skin removed).
off any extra fat before cooking.
low-fat dairy products and salad dressings.
non-stick pots and pans, and cook without added fat.
you do use fat, use either an unsaturated vegetable oil
or a nonfat cooking spray.
roast, bake, stir-fry, steam, microwave, or boil foods.
Avoid frying them.
your foods with lemon juice, herbs, or spices, instead of
about Food Safety?
your sense of taste and smell may not work as well as you
get older, you may not always be able to tell if foods have
gone bad. You might want to date foods in your refrigerator
to keep yourself from eating foods that are no longer fresh.
If in doubt, throw it out.
people should be very careful with certain kinds of foods
that need to be well cooked to prevent disease. For example,
be sure to fully cook eggs, pork, fish, shellfish, poultry,
and hot dogs. You might want to talk to your doctor or a registered
dietitian, a specialist trained in nutrition, about foods
you should avoid. These might include raw sprouts, some deli
meats, and foods that are not pasteurized (heated
enough to destroy disease-causing organisms), including some
About What to Eat?
USDA Dietary Guidelines suggest how much the “average” older
person needs to eat. But, how does “average” match your needs?
For example, maybe you have high cholesterol and need to keep
a close eye on how much fat you eat. Or, possibly you have
a food allergy or diabetes. Then you should check with your
doctor or a dietitian. They can help you plan meals that will
include the healthy foods you need without the foods you should
Can I Make Shopping Easier?
your meals in advance. Check your supply of staples like flour,
sugar, rice, and cereal. Make a list of what you need. Keep
some canned or frozen foods on hand. These are handy when
you do not feel like cooking or cannot go out. Powdered nonfat
dry milk, canned evaporated milk, and ultra-pasteurized milk
in a carton can be stored easily.
about how much of a product you will use. A large size may
be cheaper per unit, but it is not a bargain if you end up
throwing much of it away. Share large packages with a friend.
Frozen vegetables sold in bags save money because you can
use small amounts while keeping the rest frozen. If a package
of meat or fresh produce is too large, ask a store employee
to repackage it in a smaller size.
to read food package labels. There, you will find a list of
ingredients. The first one listed is present in the food in
the largest amount. The ones that follow are present in smaller
and smaller amounts. Look at “Nutrition Facts” for the calories,
protein, carbohydrate, fat, sodium, fiber, vitamin, and mineral
amounts per serving. The label also suggests a serving size
for comparing foods. There may be an expiration or “use by”
date on the label or container.
first, reading labels will add some time to your shopping
trip. Soon you will learn which products are best for you.
All This Food Cost a Lot?
are some ways to keep your food costs down:
(generic) labels, if available, or store brands are usually
cheaper than name brands.
your menu around items on sale.
more of the foods you enjoy, and quickly refrigerate the
leftovers to eat in a day or two.
leftovers into individual servings. Write the contents and
date on each package, and freeze to use within a few months.
meal preparation and costs with a friend.
a “pot-luck” dinner where everyone brings a prepared dish.
stamps from the Federal Government help people with low incomes
buy groceries. If you think you are eligible, check with a
local food stamps office or Area Agency on Aging. Also ask
your local Area Agency on Aging or tribal organization about
the nearest senior center or nutrition site. You may be able
to enjoy free or low-cost meals for older people at a community
center, church, or school. These meals offer good food and
a chance to be with other people. Home delivered meals are
available for people who are homebound.
learn about DASH, go to:
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
learn more about nutrition, meal programs, or help with shopping,
USDA Food and Nutrition Information Center (FNIC)
10301 Baltimore Avenue, Room 304
Beltsville, MD 20705-2351
330 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201
Federal Government has several websites with information on
more information on health and aging, contact:
Institute on Aging Information Center
P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057
The National Institute on Aging website is www.nia.nih.gov.
order publications (in English or Spanish) online, visit www.niapublications.org.
a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging
and the National Library of Medicine. This simple-to- use
website features popular health topics for older adults, including
one on lung cancer. It has large type and a “talking” function
that reads the text out loud.
as a Potassium Deficiency
- Potassium nutrition and physiology around the concept
that the low potassium always present in arthritis
and usually in heart disease should be relieved. An
exhaustive opinion on the subject.
- Copper Physiology - A detailed and referenced
opinion on copper nutrition and physiology as they
pertain to hemorrhoids, slipped discs, aneurisms,
emphysema, infection, arthritis, and maybe gray hair.
- Eating Well as We Age - The Food and Drug Administration.
Problems, solutions, nutrition facts.
- Elderly Nutrition Program - Administration on Aging
- Provides for congregate (group) and home-delivered
- ENC: Nutrition in the Elderly - Article examining
physiological, metabolic and economic changes that
may effect some elderly having a nutrient poor diet.
- Food Safety for the Elderly - Age increases risk
for food borne illness due to lowered stomach acid,
weakened immune systems, reduced sense of smell. Foods
safety precautions when handling, preparing, cooking,
storing food for seniors.
on Wheels - Community food services in western
& south western Sydney Australia.
- Meals On Wheels Association of America - Articles
on the MOWAA with easy links to follow to give donations.
- Nutrition and the Older Adult - Presented by The
Calgary Regional Health Authority.
- Nutrition for The Elderly - Informative links
to various resources related to questions of nutrition
for the elderly
- Nutrition Index - Articles devoted to nutrition
in the elderly including requirements, physiological
changes common problems and assessment of status.
- Nutrition News Focus - Nutrition for the Elderly
- Allows you to sign up for a free daily email newsletter
that helps you make sense of the often confusing and
contradictory nutrition news.
Screening Initiative - Nutrition checklist designed
to alert individuals, family members, and physicians
to conditions that may lead to malnutrition, particularly
in the aged.
- Nutritional Guidelines for Seniors - New food
guide pyramid developed by the US Department of Agriculture's
Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.
- Seek Wellness - Nutrition and Aging - Offers several
articles about foods and supplements that may slow
aging or improve memory. Includes articles on food
programs, how to read labels, and physical activity
- Senior Mag - Nutrition Glossary - Nutritional
supplements defined along with recommended usages,
requirements/recommendations, and natural sources.
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