A healthy diet is crucial to aging well and preventing chronic illnesses including Alzheimer’s disease. As we age our bodies undergo changes that should be taken into consideration when planning senior’s meals.
We need to remember that older people naturally become less active due to mobility constraints and therefore don't need to eat as much food as before. The smaller amounts of food needed mean that the meals consumed should be packed even more with essential nutrients. Unfortunately, decreased appetite or reduced ability to prepare food cause the elderly to suffer from deficiencies in essential vitamins and nutrients.
In older populations, vitamin B12 is poorly absorbed due to metabolic problems and decreased stomach acidity. Stomach acid is necessary to access the vitamin B12 found naturally in food, and an intrinsic factor is required for its absorption. The general recommendation for adults is 2.4 mcg, but the elderly might need higher doses. Great sources of vitamin B12 are lean meat, fish, seafood, dairy products, and eggs. You’ll need vitamin B12 for red blood cell production, DNA formation, and nerve function.
Older adults are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiencies due to inadequate diet (lack of fatty fish or meat), decreased capacity to synthesize the vitamin after sun exposure, and decreased capacity of the kidneys to convert vitamin D into its active form. The current recommendations for vitamin D intake for older adults can be found here. The consumption of this nutrient is important as it helps to build and maintain healthy bones and also protects you against osteoporosis. As a senior, you might want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults over 51 should reduce sodium intake to 1,500 mg daily. Too much salt intake is associated with many age-related health conditions including high blood pressure and increased risk of stroke. Try to limit your consumption of smoked fish and meat, frozen dinners, and choose unsalted nuts as your snack.
Protein-rich meals are needed for the preservation of muscle mass in older adults. Maintaining healthy muscles decreases the risks of falling and injures later in life. Good choices of foods with protein are of course lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and cheese, but also beans, peanut butter, and nuts. Seniors may need to consume 1.0-1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
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