Health

Brief guide to healthy eating during aging

“Young people should know that one day they will be old,” said Gregorio Marañón. Aging is a vital process that, sooner or later, we will all go through. At this stage of life, health, more than ever, takes on great relevance and begins to be considered the center of interests and concerns.

Lead an active lifestyle and diet healthy and balanced increases the quality of life during aging. However, a large part of the elderly do not have a quality diet. In fact, one in three elderly people has nutritional deficiencies in their diet, which tend to increase the decline in muscle mass and bone density that naturally accompanies aging, as well as making immune function less effective.

But what is the reason for this situation of malnutrition?

On the one hand, over the years the deterioration of cellular processes is very evident. However, not all people suffer from the aging process with the same intensity, since the lifestyle of each individual is highly variable. Likewise, aging is usually accompanied by multiple chronic pathologies that make it very difficult to differentiate which are the changes produced by the aging process itself and which are the consequence of a disease.

Grandfather
Reference photo on old age – Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Similarly, there are various factors, both physical and physiological, that can affect the nutritional status of the elderly and the development of diseases. An example could be the deterioration in the senses with which we perceive food: taste, sight and smell. This deterioration determines some changes in eating habits, since they can make meals less attractive and appetizing.yes

Problems when chewing, digesting… and buying

On the other hand, in elderly people, the prevalence of alterations in the processes of chewing and digestion is very high. This fact causes the absorption of nutrients present in some foods and, therefore, their use is not adequate. In addition, changes in the cardiovascular system and liver and kidney damage also hinder proper utilization of nutrients.

These changes influence nutritional requirements. Thus, there is a reduction in energy needs and an increase in the nutritional requirements of vitamin D and calcium. All these changes refer to the diet of the elderly without previous pathologies. However, it should be noted that, in the elderly population, the high prevalence of certain diseases means that many of them have to follow restrictive diets in some foods or components. Secondly, many older people take several medications daily, so interactions, which most often negatively affect the utilization of some nutrientsare much more frequent.

The life of an elderly person does not change only in terms of physiology. In general, the elderly can have balance disorders, movement limitations and even disabilities. In many cases, this conditions the possibility of shopping and cooking. In addition, the psychological state is a factor to take into account in the diet of the elderly, since the loss of autonomy, loneliness and the deterioration of the mood condition the appetite and lead to monotonous diets with deficiencies in multiple nutrients.

These changes influence nutritional requirements. Thus, there is a reduction in energy needs and an increase in the nutritional requirements of vitamin D and calcium. All these changes refer to the diet of the elderly without previous pathologies. However, it should be noted that, in the elderly population, the high prevalence of certain diseases means that many of them have to follow restrictive diets in some foods or components. On the other hand, many older people take several medications daily, so interactions, which most of the time negatively affect the use of some nutrients, are much more frequent.

Gerascophobia is the irrational fear of growing old.
Reference photo on old age – Photo: Getty Images

The life of an elderly person does not change only in terms of physiology. In general, the elderly can have balance disorders, movement limitations and even disabilities. In many cases, this conditions the possibility of shopping and cooking. In addition, the psychological state is a factor to be taken into account in the diet of the elderlybecause the loss of autonomy, loneliness and mood deterioration condition appetite and lead to monotonous diets lacking in multiple nutrients.

Recommendations to eat better

A large part of the elderly population has problems eating food. What would be the most recommended solutions?

Oral problems such as decreased saliva secretion and loss of teeth make it difficult to chew. Consequently, easy-to-chew foods such as dairy products should be prioritized and others such as meat and some vegetables and fruits should be displaced. This can have a negative impact on the nutrient intake of the diet.

In other words, what is eaten is as important as what is left uneaten.

In addition, other strategies that can help food intake in elderly people may be the following:

  • Use adapted cutlery that does not slip and reduce the distance to the plate to prevent food from falling before reaching the mouth.
  • To make chewing easier, take small amounts of food and, before taking food again, empty what is in the mouth. Eat vegetables in the form of puree, roasted fruits, cooked or in compotes and meat as minced meat (meatballs, homemade hamburgers) to facilitate chewing.
  • To avoid coughing and choking, it is recommended to modify the consistency of food, avoiding mixed consistencies or tripping, tilting the head forward when swallowing, and pushing the food with the tongue. In case of frequent choking, liquids can be thickened with thickening powders.

That said, is it possible to have a healthy diet during old age?

The answer is clearly yes. Eating properly, in addition to being beneficial to health, should be a pleasure.

To do this, you have to start with a good purchase, which includes a wide range of healthy foods, and choosing those with the highest amount of nutrients. A dietary pattern such as the Mediterranean diet would be an example of a varied and balanced diet. It has been shown that a high adherence to the Mediterranean diet is directly associated with a reduced risk of suffering from chronic diseases of nutritional origin.

Let’s eat well and take care of ourselves. Being elderly is no reason to stop caring for the machine that will allow us to live fully for many more years. Let’s age well!

By:

Iker Gomez-Garcia

PhD student, University of the Basque Country / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea

Alfredo Fernandez-Quintela

Professor of Nutrition and Researcher at CIBERobn, University of the Basque Country / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea

Jenifer Trepiana Arin

Researcher of the Nutrition and Obesity group of the University of the Basque Country and the Center for Biomedical Research in the Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition Network (CiberObn) and the Bioaraba Health Research Institute, University of the Basque Country / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea

Maria Puy Portillo

Professor of Nutrition. Center for Biomedical Research in the Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition Network (CIBERobn), University of the Basque Country / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea

Article originally published on The Conversation

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