The inherent benefits of good nutrition for a healthy body and mind are irrefutable. Good nutrition delivers an abundance of energy, promotes mental cognitive function, bolsters the immune system and keeps disease at bay.
Receiving adequate nutrition can be a challenge, as we get older.
Sensory impairment, such as a decrease in sense of taste and smell, coupled with difficulty in chewing due to poor oral health and dental complications, positions the elderly at risk of malnutrition1.
Defined as being poorly nourished due to the lack of one or more nutrients2 from inadequate food intake, malnutrition, can lead to dietary deficiencies and illness.
Malnutrition affects your overall health. The mental, physical and emotional ramifications increases the risk of illnesses and/or worsen pre-existing medical conditions1. It may delay recovery and prolong hospitalisation, lead to increased susceptibility to infection, impede independence and quality of life, and even increase the risk of death in many elderly patients3.
With so much at stake, here’s a quick guide to help you eat well at any age:
- Eat a well balanced and complete meal
As people age, their diets tends to change due to the body’s inability to efficiently absorb nutrients. It is essential to eat a complete and balanced diet containing vitamins and minerals4 such as Folic acid, iron, Vitamin A, C, D, and B12, which can be sourced from variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products and whole grains. This will support and maintain your improve overall health.
- Consume more fibre
Dietary fibre, found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, is important for maintaining digestive health and protecting against heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other metabolic conditions5.
Soluble fibre found in beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering "bad," cholesterol levels. Studies also have shown that high-fibre foods may have other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation6.
A healthy fibre intake can have a positive effect on your bowel movement. Fibre has long been used as part of the treatment for various gastrointestinal conditions such as constipation, ulcerative colitis and diarrhea7. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that adults consume between 25 to 30 grams of dietary fibre daily8.
- Nourish your gut with probiotics and prebiotics
Almost 70% of our immune system, our body’s natural defence system, is located in the gut. To reap the benefits of a healthy gut and cultivate healthy micro flora, we must nourish the good bacteria.
Probiotics are ‘living microorganisms’, which offers health benefits when taken in adequate amounts9. Probiotics has the ability to repopulate and bolster the number of friendly bacteria in the gut9. Probiotics can be found in your local supermarket in fermented foods such as yogurt, tempeh, and kimchi.
Prebiotics , such as Fructooligosaccharide (FOS), are the ingredients good gut bacteria use as fuel to nourish their own growth and activity. Prebiotics are present in its richest source in garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, asparagus, and Jerusalem artichoke .
- Drink plenty of fluids.
It is recommended to drink between 6‑8 glasses of water per day. Many older people limit their fluid intake in order to minimise trips to the bathroom because of mobility challenges. This however, can lead to insufficient fluid intake which can result in, dehydration. Dehydration is associated with an elevated body temperature, low blood pressure10 and constipation10 which can also lead to confusion, headaches and irritability.
- Keep up with the Calcium intake
It is estimated that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 years of age will suffer from osteoporosis11 during their lifetime. Maintaining bone health as you age depends on adequate calcium intake to prevent brittle bones and bone fractures.
Older adults should consume 1,200 mg of calcium a day12 through milk, yogurt, or cheese. Non-dairy sources include tofu, broccoli, almonds, and kale.
Good nutrition is intrinsically linked to healthy aging. As we grow older, it is imperative to observe our daily diet and practise healthy eating habits in order to counter the effects of aging.
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- Volkert, D., Pauly, L., Stehle, P., & Sieber, C. C. (2011, March 20). Prevalence of Malnutrition in Orally and Tube-Fed Elderly Nursing Home Residents in Germany and Its Relation to Health Complaints and Dietary Intake. Gastroenterology Research and Practice, 2011.
- Hickson, M. (2006, January). Malnutrition and ageing. Postgrad Med J, 82. Retrieved August 31, 2016
- Culebras, Jesus M. “Malnutrition in the Twenty-First Century: An Epidemic Affecting Surgical Outcome.” Surgical Infections3 (2013): 237–243. PMC. Web. 6 Sept. 2016.
- Prof Judy Buttriss, Healthy Ageing- The Role of Nutrition & Lifestyle. British Nutrition Foundation. Extracted from nutrition.org.uk
- Whole Grains and Fiber. American Heart Association. Retrieved 6 Sept 2016 from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/HealthyDietGoals/Whole-Grains-and-Fiber_UCM_303249_Article.jsp#.V851Lj595-U
- Dietary Fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 6 Sept 2016 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983
- Eswaran, S., Muir, J., & Chey, W. D. (2013, April 3). Fiber and Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders . In ROME FOUNDATION WORKING GROUP . Retrieved August 31, 2016
- Food & Nutrition. Malaysian Dietitians’s Association. Retrieved 6 Sept 2016
- Magdalena Araya, Catherine Stanton, Lorenzo Morelli, Gregor Reid, Maya Pineiro, et al., 2006, "Probiotics in food: health and nutritional properties and guidelines for evaluation," CombinedReport of a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Evaluation of Health and Nutritional Properties of Probiotics in Food Including Powder Milk with Live Lactic Acid Bacteria,Cordoba, Argentina, 1–4 October 2001, and Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Working Group on Drafting Guidelines for the Evaluation of Probiotics in Food, London, Ontario, Canada, 30 April–1 May 2002 [FAO Food and Nutrition paper 85], pp. 1–50, Rome, Italy:World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) [of the United Nations], ISBN 9251055130, see , accessed 11 June 2015.
- Manz F & Wentz A (2005a) The importance of good hydration for the prevention of chronic diseases. Nutrition Reviews 63 (Part II): S2–5.
- International Osteoporosis Foundation, Facts & Statistics: Osteoporosis- Incidence & burden. Retrieved from https://www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics
- Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium, Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2010.