Why Older People Need Healthy Food Habit

Old People Food Habits and the Consequences

Food habits of older people do not always coincide with their food needs. Several surveys of the food choices of older people have been made in different localities; all report much of the same trends. In one study of 104 geriatric patients, most of them over 70, it has been found there is a marked decrease in consumption of meat and milk and an increased use of eggs, but no caloric deficit.

The factors that seemed to affect the food habits of these elderly retired people are social situation (over half of them lived alone) reduced income, limiting cooking and refrigeration facilities, marketing difficulties, condition of the teeth, sense of smell, problems of swallowing, food faddism, and long-standing misconceptions about good nutrition.

People are Susceptible to Fads

Unfortunately, many adults in late 30s or 40s, are misled in their search for “eternal youth” or relief from their aches and pains. They hear and believe the social media, television, promotions and various panaceas – multivitamins, herbs and all sorts of mixture claimed to be remedies of all sorts of ills.

It is well known that food and nutrition quackery thrive in areas where middle income retired people congregate. So-called health food stores may carry many desirable food items, but they also stock a variety of items promoted by the faddists.

The cost of fad foods may divert money from other food items or from other needs. Indiscriminate use of vitamin and mineral supplements may also cost the older individual money that could more appropriately be used to purchase a better-quality diet, one more generally beneficial to health.

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Calorie Needs in Older People

The major physiologic change occurring with age is a decrease in the number of functioning cells, which results in a slowing down of metabolic processes. This, together with a decrease in physical activity, may reduce the energy needs of the older adult. For example, a woman over 50 years of age weighing 128 pounds may need only 1800 calories whereas she needed 2000 or more at age 23. If she does not reduce her caloric intake to conform to her needs, she will store the excess as fat – which is so common in older people, particularly women.

Calories Need to be Reduced in Older People

The food sources of reduced calories must be chosen with care to include all essential factors, in higher proportion than that needed in former years because the total food consumed is less. There is an obvious need for foods which carry a full quota of proteins, minerals, and vitamins. It is essential to reduce consumption of empty calories – sugar, rich desserts, cakes, candies, fats and alcohol.

Reduction in total calories involves a most difficult tasks of alteration of food habits. For the majority of persons, habit is perhaps one of the greatest obstacles in the path to an optimal diet. The longer the habits are continued, the more fixed they become. The food habits of older people are apt to be so fixed that it is difficult to change them unless the way is made easy.

Whoever is planning or preparing the meals for overweight person – the homemaker herself, a health aide or housekeeper – can eliminate some calories behind the scenes while still keeping meals attractive and in the familiar pattern. If people do not see the high calorie foods, one psychological barrier has been overcome. By substituting for rich cakes and pastries such as items as puddings and custards made with skim milk, angel food cake and more fruit desserts, gelatins, whips etc., calories are saved without sacrificing flavor.

The most serious problem for the middle aged and past middle-aged group concerns the type and amount of fat in the diet and their relation to the blood cholesterol level and to the incidence of atherosclerosis. There are still many uncertainties and misconceptions concerning this problem.

Protein is the most important building block for older people

Apparently, protein needs are not reduced appreciably with age, and yet many older people eat less protein than they did when younger. This is most likely to happen where marketing is difficult, cooking facilities are poor, or the money for food is limited. It can also happen among those with a  better economic status when denture troubles, lack of appetite, or too little energy prevent the preparing or the eating of meats or other protein foods.

The requirement of certain amino acids may even be increased to meet changes in body function with age. The methionine and lysine requirements of six male subjects 50 to 70 years of age to substantially greater than that of younger males.

Special attention may need to be given to meeting the protein requirements of the older person if he is sharing in the family meals planned to meet the higher caloric food habits of younger members of the family. An extra glass of skim milk at meals or between meals may be consumed to supplement smaller servings of meat, fish, or other high protein main dishes. If the person lives alone, milk, cheese and eggs are often used as alternates for meat, fish, or poultry because of ease of preparation. Adequate calories tend to spare protein so that the total food intake should always be taken into account.

Mineral Requirements in Older People

The calcium needs of older people seem to be as great as the needs of younger adults. Inadequate calcium intake along with some endocrine disturbance may cause the loss of calcium from the bones and lead to osteoporosis and resulting fragility, so frequently responsible for fractures. Lowered gastric acidity and hepatic and pancreatic insufficiency may contribute by impairing calcium absorption. Increased excretion of calcium due to impaired kidney function or to reduced physical activity may also play role osteoporosis.

The best suggestion is to provide liberal amounts of milk and milk products. These may be used in cooking, creamed soups, milk desserts, and other such foods. The use of nonfat dry milk is to be encouraged in cooking as an inexpensive source of good protein and calcium.

Vitamin Requirements in Older People

Unfortunately, little is known regarding the vitamin requirements of older people and whether there is a change associated with age or with chronic disease. However, there is no evidence that vitamin requirements are reduced with advancing years, and it is safe to assume that older people need all the vitamins they did in earlier years.

If there has been merely a marginal supply of any vitamin in the diet for many years, a reduction in total food eaten may be sufficient to precipitate minor nutritional deficiencies. The time factor of advancing age may permit cumulative effects to show up.

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