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Nutrition and the Elderly

A proper diet is important to a strong immune system.  It helps the body to fight off infection and/or illness more readily.  Yet, the elderly do not always make nutritional choices, and this behavior could put them at risk.

Several reasons for inadequate dietary intake in the elderly might include lack of appetite, dental problems (which can lead to chewing difficulty), limited access to grocery selections, forgetfulness, economic limitations (healthy foods are sometimes more expensive), greater convenience of processed food, cravings for one particular food group, dislike of vegetables, depression, illness, etc.  It is important to identify the underlying cause so the problem can addressed.

Nutritional requirements vary with age and activity level; what is sufficient for one person may not be for another.  Your doctor is the best resource in determining individual dietary needs.

The information below is an example of suggested requirements for a 78 year old man or women with moderate exercise levels.  Men represents the higher end and women the lower.

  1. Grains–6 to 7 ounces.  Grains consisting of oatmeal, pasta, rice, cereal, etc.  Fiber-rich whole grains like those found in whole wheat bread or brown rice are preferred to refined varieties like those found in white rice or bread.
  2. Vegetables-2 ½ to 3 cups.  Vegetables can mean the ones you picked from your garden, or the 100% vegetable juice you ingest at breakfast.  Dark vegetables have more nutrients, and fresh are preferred to canned.
  3. Fruit-1 ½ to 2 cups.  Fruits can be served in a variety of ways (mashed, juiced, freshly peeled, etc.).
  4. Oils-5 teaspoons.  Oils are in fruits, animals, nuts, and fish.  Oils which do not contain trans fats and are low in saturated fat are highly preferred.  Extra virgin olive oil and nut oil are two examples of healthier varieties.
  5. Milk-3 cups.  This group includes calcium-rich products such as yogurt, cheese, and milk.  Low-fat is often best.
  6. Meat and Beans-5 to 6 ounces.  Meat, fish, nuts, dried beans, eggs, generally make up the meat and beans category.  Lean meats have less saturated fat than fatty and are preferred.

The above food recommendations are based on the MyPyramid Food Guide by the United States Department of Agriculture.

A balanced diet comprised of healthy foods factor significantly in helping the elderly stay fit.  We want to put the best oil in our cars to keep them working properly; the same should hold true for our bodies.  Again, your doctor is the best resource to advise on dietary adjustments, so be sure to consult with him or her before making changes.  Oh, and water intake is extremely important!  Make sure the elderly always have a pitcher available to avoid dehydration.

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