The changing nutritional needs of seniors in Joliet

The modified pyramid for older adults and seniors in Shorewood, Joliet, Plainfield, Channahon, Crest Hill, Minooka, Naperville, Morris, Aurora, and Lockport ILMany things change as people age. That’s a given. But how does nutrition change over a lifetime. Each year over age 40, a person’s metabolism slows down resulting in fewer burned calories. Add a reluctance to exercise, and it’s a recipe for weight gain and its complications.

On the other hand, scientists estimate that anywhere from 15 percent to 50 percent of American seniors over the age of 65 consume too few calories, proteins or essential vitamins and minerals for good health. According to Dr. Jeffrey B. Blumberg, associate director of the Human Nutrition Center on Aging at Tufts University, national and regional surveys over the last decade have found close to 50 percent of elderly Americans consuming insufficient levels of calories or of such micronutrients as calcium, iron, B vitamins or vitamin C.

In 1992, the United States Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services published the Food Guide Pyramid for healthy eating. Seven years later in 1992, scientists at the USDA’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston released the “Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults” which was specially designed to meet the nutritional needs of people over age seventy.

First, the modified pyramid is based on eight 8-oz. glasses of water or other nonalcoholic, caffeine-free beverages per day. Moving up, the next level of the pyramid suggests that a senior’s diet include six or more servings a day of fiber-rich bread, cereal, rice, or pasta.

Above that, there should be three or more servings of vegetables and two or more servings of fruit. The fruits and vegetables with the richest colors (dark green, orange, yellow, and red) have the greatest quantities of nutrients. Then comes the protein level which suggests three or more servings of milk, yogurt, and cheese, and two or more servings of meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts. Dairy choices should be of the low-fat variety.

In the meat category, include fish, which may reduce cardiac risk, dried beans, which have lots of fiber, and lean meat and poultry. Protein is important in maintaining muscle mass, boosting immunity, and aiding in wound healing. And finally, the tiny tip of the pyramid recommends using fats, oils, and sweets sparingly.

Good nutrition should and can be part of every senior’s life in order to keep the immune system strong and to have energy and a positive outlook.

Some helpful tips include:

  • Good carbs. Opt for whole grain nutrition (brown rice, whole wheat bread), not refined “white” products such as white bread, white rice, or products made with white flour.
  • Raw veggies. Aim to eat at least one daily serving of your fruits and vegetables raw. This not only preserves their nutritional value, it’s an easy way to avoid constipation. Raw fruits and veggies are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes to aid digestion. Plus, there’s no preparation involved. If you have difficulty biting or chewing, cut your apple or carrot into bite-sized pieces. Or try a green salad with grated zucchini.
  • Steaming is the best way to cook vegetables; it preserves nutrients.
  • Protein. Fish, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, nuts and tofu all count as protein. So does skinless turkey or chicken, or fish, baked, broiled, grilled, steamed or poached. Go easy on red meats which contain saturated fat and on salty meats such as bacon or ham.
  • Calcium. All dairy products are not created equal. Milk, cheese and yogurt retain their calcium content; cream cheese, cream and butter do not. As part of a healthy senior diet, choose fat-free or low fat dairy products. If lactose-intolerance is an issue, there are lactose-free and lower-lactose products such as hard cheeses and yogurt. A calcium supplement might insure enough calcium. Ask the doctor.
  • Fats. Good fats come from olive oil and sunflower oil, avocados and avocado oil, nuts and seeds.
  • H2O. Drink enough water each day and eat foods with a high water content such as melons, grapes, cucumbers, onions, apples, cabbage, and soup. Staying well hydrated flushes toxins from the body, relieves constipation, helps keep joints flexible. Don’t wait until thirst happens because some people don’t feel thirst, but their bodies need lots of water anyway.

Remember to choose foods that are simple to prepare, flavorful, and easy to chew, swallow and digest. Another good guide to check out is Healthy Eating: New Food Pyramids and Tips for a Healthy Diet.

Before any changes in diet are made, it is wise to consult a health care professional who can evaluate specific nutritional needs based on medical history.

Bon appétit!


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