Nutrition and Aging: your questions answered

Nutrition and Aging: your questions answered

BY STEPHANIE FALVO, MS, LDN.

The US Census Bureau projects that the number of Americans ages 65 and older will nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise from 16 percent to 23 percent. Research has revealed that the average U.S. life expectancy increased from 68 years in 1950 to 78.6 years in 2017, due to the reduction in mortality at older ages. Advances in medicine and improved nutrition from access to an abundant food supply are primary contributors to longevity.

Well-balanced nutrition plays a pivotal role at all ages of the life-cycle. Nutrition is even more important as we age. Years of research have demonstrated that diet quality has a huge effect on physical condition, cognitive condition, bone health, eye health, vascular function, and the immune system. A nutrient dense, well-balanced diet improves health by preventing or delaying the on-set of nutrition related concerns such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and stoke. Sound nutrition practices also reduce the risks for obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that obesity impacts approximately about 93.3 million of US adults. Adults are at risk for becoming obese due to decreases in physical activity, thus decreasing daily calorie requirements. On average, calorie needs decline by approximately five percent per decade. Another reason for rising obesity in adults is decreases in metabolic rate. Metabolic rate decreases approximately one to two percent per decade due to declines in lean body mass and hormones. Despite lower calorie requirements, older adults still require to consume nutrient-dense foods.

Malnutrition is another nutrition-related concern for older adults. Malnutrition is often caused by a combination of physical, social and psychological issues. Examples include normal age-related changes to taste, smell, and appetite. Chronic diseases and disease-related inflammation can contribute to declines in appetite and changes in how the body processes nutrients. Impaired ability to eat due to difficulty chewing or swallowing, poor dental health, or limited ability in handling tableware can contribute to malnutrition. Restrictive dietary restrictions for managing medical condition, such as limiting salt, fat or sugar can also contribute to inadequate eating. Lastly, depression from grief, loneliness, failing health, lack of mobility and other factors might result in loss of appetite, thus risk for malnutrition. Malnutrition negatively affects an individual’s quality of life, increases health care costs, and increases the risk of short-term mortality. Malnutrition in older adults can lead to various health concerns, such as a weakened immune system, muscle weakness and decreased bone mass, increase risk of hospitalization and an increased risk of death.

The following are some strategies for growing old healthfully.

  • Choose nutrient dense foods such as high-quality protein, and carbohydrate-rich foods. Examples of high-quality protein foods include lean meats, poultry, fish, fat-free and/or low-fat milk products. Protein is especially important as we age to support a healthy immune system, prevent muscle wasting, and optimize bone mass. Examples carbohydrate-rich foods include legumes, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Many of these foods are excellent sources of fiber, which are beneficial to cardiovascular and aid in prevention of constipation. Foods with added sugars, solid fats, and alcohol are considered to be empty calories. Empty calories provide energy, but have little or no nutritional value. Examples of foods considered empty calories baked goods, candies, sugary beverages, and alcoholic beverages. A steady diet of foods with empty calories contributes to obesity and malnutrition. Moderation is key to a healthy and happy life!
  • Be active! Simple activity such as walking can greatly improve health and well-being. Before beginning any exercise regimen, consult your physician.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Reduce stress – maintain a positive attitude, manage time wisely, and know your limits. Regular exercise is one way to manage stress.
  • For individuals that smoke, discuss with physician strategies and programs to quit.
  • Consume six to eight glasses of water per day. Dehydration is common for many older adults. Dehydration increases risk of urinary tract infections. It can also result in confusion and disorientation. To prevent dehydration, older adults need to consume adequate water and other fluids every day. Incorporate foods with a high-water content such as melons and soups to help combat dehydration.
  • Control depression through activities and friendships.

Variety is the spice of life and promotes good nutrition. Successful aging isn’t found in over the counter vitamin supplement, nutritional drinks, or other faddish fountain of youth products. Successful aging comes from good nutrition, positive attitude, and simply enjoying life!

Works Cited:

Rolfes, S. R., Pinna, K., & Whitney, E. (2018). In Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition Twelfth Edition. Cengage.

United States Census Bureur. (2018, October 8). The Graying of America: More Older Adults Than Kids by 2035. Retrieved from Census.Gov: https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2018/03/graying-america.html

About the Author: Stephanie Falvo, MS, LDN is the Lead Registered Dietitian at Allied Services Skilled Nursing & Rehab Center in Scranton. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics and a Master of Science in Nutrition from Marywood University. Stephanie is a registered dietitian and licensed practitioner in Pennsylvania. She has worked in clinical nutrition and food services for the past fifteen years at Allied Services Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Scranton. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Scranton in the Exercise and Sport Department.