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“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”Betty Friedan.

And the most important way of building that strength is through nutrition. A healthy diet plays a very important role in all the stages of our lives, but as we grow older, its importance increases even more. According to the population census of 2011, the elderly population in India is 104 million and it is expected to grow to 173 million by 2026. Studies indicate that more than 50% of this population suffers from malnourishment and 90% of them have less than recommended intake. This is an alarming number and makes understanding and taking the correct nutrition paramount in elders.

If diet-related degenerative diseases develop in aged individuals, the condition is then regarded as pathological aging. Old age morbidity and mortality is due to pathological aging. Diet-related degenerative diseases are the worst enemies of elders. Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery diseases and strokes in brains are the major diseases affecting the elderly. Controlling diet and including physical activities are the two most powerful tools to control such conditions.

As we age, our bodies go through physiological and structural changes, thus changing the nutritional requirements too. Let’s have a look at some of those changes:

Affected part of the bodyChanges in agingAlterations of nutritional needs and dietary patterns
Taste buds on the tongueAtrophy of certain types of taste budsLowered threshold for certain tastes like sweet and sour foods. Elderly tend to eat more sweet foods and tend to take more sugar in their tea.
TeethLoss of teethDifficulty in chewing and preference for soft and liquid foods. They avoid green leafy vegetables and whole fruits that need chewing. For e.g. Apple.
StomachGets smaller in size with reduced gastric enzymes which are necessary for digestionLarge meals cause gastric discomfort. Meals should be small in quantity and more in frequency.
Intestinal TractAtrophy of muscles of intestine leading to reduced motility and reduced digestive enzymeUndigested food remains in the intestine for a longer time resulting in gas formation and constipation


Simple Rules for formulating Diet for Elderly

With the advancement in age, the metabolic rate of the body decreases and as a result of which, the Basal Metabolic rate (BMR) also reduces. The Basal Metabolic rate is defined as the minimum energy required by the body to conduct basic bodily functions like breathing, digestion, etc.

Since elderly individuals restrict their physical activity, their calorie requirement is also less. Also, they may experience a loss in appetite because of decreasing interest in foods and lack of palatable food preparations.

Also Read: Know Your Food Better: Vitamins and Minerals

Hence, here’s a simple guideline for formulating diet for elderly individuals:

  1. Portion the meal: Instead of taking two large meals, the elderly person should be encouraged to split their food into 3-4 smaller meals. Lunch should be a full mean and dinner should be a light meal. Bring in these changes gradually.
  2. Encourage chewing: Elders should be given food that encourages chewing (mastication). Instead of fruit juice, provide them with soft fruits that they can chew.
  3. Add fibre to food: Care should be taken to provide the elderly with food that is high in fibre like vegetables and whole foods. Avoid refined wheat flour and white bread and give them wheat and brown bread instead. This will help them in maintain motility of the intestinal tract and prevent flatulence and constipation.
  4. Choose food wisely: Every individual has experience of which foods suit them and which cause them discomfort. In general, avoid fatty foods as they are difficult to digest and increase cholesterol, resulting in artery diseases.
  5. Include anti-oxidants in diet: Include anti-oxidants in their diet. Coloured fruits and vegetables like orange and tomato, green leafy vegetables like spinach and cabbage and citrus fruits like oranges and lemon should be included.
  6. Drink more water: All elderly people should be encouraged to drink minimum eight glasses of water in a day.

The nutritional needs of an elderly are less than those of an adult. It is important that adequate care is taken to include all the foods that are required to maintain a healthy lifestyle for the elderly. With proper nutrition and some physical activity, aging can be made healthier and easier.

Also Read: Know Your Food Better: Vitamins and Minerals

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