Everyone eventually encounters Father Time. Due to advances in modern technology, medicine, and countless other inventions; this encounter with the mystical man is becoming increasingly prolonged. By 2030, it is estimated that over 72 million Americans will be over the age of sixty-five (Insel et al., 2017 p.704). Today, it is not uncommon to see people sixty-five and older to be living a healthy and active lifestyle. In fact, older adults represent the fastest growing portion of the United States population (Insel et al., 2017, p.704). Despite the older adult populations rapid growth, it is still the age group with the most health issues. Although Father Time is inescapable and the aging process is inevitable, there are lifestyle choices such as eating habits, physical activity, and multiple other variables that influence a person’s risk for disease and the rate at which they age. This paper discusses the general nutritional needs and energy requirements of older adults, while also providing recommendations that aim to make aging a gradual process and prevent chronic diseases that afflict this population.
The nutritional needs and energy requirements for older adults is dependent on activity level, amount of lean body mass, and the presence of disease. With that being said, older adults typically require less calories due to reduced physical activity and loss of lean body mass (Insel et al., 2017, p.709). Although caloric requirements generally decrease with age, protein intake should remain the same. For healthy older adults, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Individuals suffering from chronic diseases may need more protein than the suggested RDA.
Complex carbohydrates such as the carbs found in grains, fruits, and vegetables should make up 45 to 65 percent of any individual’s diet above the age of two (Insel et al, p.710). It is especially important for older adults to avoid the regular consumption of simple carbohydrates because these foods tend to have low nutritional value and could increase the risk of developing a number of diseases. Older adults should also make sure that they are eating adequate amounts of dietary fiber, which is found in complex carbohydrates. The adequate intake (AI) of dietary fiber for men older than fifty is 30 grams per day and 21 grams for women of the same age group. Dietary fiber intake is important because it acts as a prebiotic for the gut microbiome, prevents colonic cancer, treats bowel diseases and symptoms, and aids in mineral absorption (Donini, Savina, & Cannella, n.d). Fiber also prevents cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders.
Fat has received a bad wrap over the years, but it is an essential nutrient for the body and one of the primary sources for energy. Fat plays a critical role in nutrient absorption, immune function, protection of vital organs, and hormonal balance to name a few (Babcock, June 19, 2017). It is recommended that 20 to 35 percent of a healthy older adults daily caloric intake come from healthy fat sources (Insel et al., 2017, p.710). Individuals at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease should consume less than the recommended values above.
Perhaps more important than macronutrient ratios is the intake of micronutrients. Older adults are at an increased risk for micronutrient deficiencies due to a number of age related physiological changes, which are often times coupled with a poor diet. The micronutrients of particular concern for older adults are vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, and iron.
Due to a decrease in bone density and the skins capacity for cholecalciferol synthesis, an increase in calcium and vitamin D is critical for maintaining bone health for older adults. Too little vitamin D and calcium can lead to a higher risk of fractures, especially for postmenopausal women. To prevent the incidence of fracture and the onset of osteoporis, regular exposure to sunlight, physical activity, and adopting a diet adequate in calcium and vitamin D are productive measures for minimizing risk (Insel et al., 2017, p. 716). Adults aged 51 through 70 years should take in 600 IU daily of vitamin D. The RDA increases to 800 IU per day for adults 70 years of age and above (Insel et al., 2017, p.711). For women older than 50, and men older than 70, the RDA for calcium is 1200 milligrams per day. Men between the ages of 50 and 70 should consume 1000 milligrams daily of calcium (Insel et al., 2017, p.712).
Vitamin B-12 deficiency is extremely prevalent among the older adult population. This is in large part because of a condition that affects up to 30% of older adults called atrophic gastritis. This condition decreases secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which causes a decrease of vitamin B-12 absorption (National Institute of Health, n.d.). Vitamin B-12 deficiencies cause many symptoms which may include anemia, numbness or tingling in the hand, cognitive difficulties, weakness, and fatigue (Skerret, May 4, 2017). According to the Institute of Medicine, individuals over the age of 50 should supplement with B-12 since they may not be absorbing enough of the vitamin through foods (Skerret, May 4, 2017). 2.4 micrograms daily is recommended for all adults over the age of 51 (Insel et al., 2017, p.711).
Iron is a mineral that is essential for transporting oxygen all through the body. A deficiency in iron means the body cannot produce sufficient amounts of oxygen carrying red blood cells. Iron deficiency is one of the most common causes of anemia in the elderly population. This can be due to a lack of iron in the person’s diet or inadequate absorption of the mineral. The best sources of iron are red meat, poultry, and fish. The RDA for iron is 8 milligrams per day for older adults (Insel et al., 2017, p.712).
About eighty percent of older adults are suffering from at least one chronic disease (NCOA, August 10, 2017). Many of these diseases are preventable through a healthy lifestyle and diet. Incorporating sources such as Myplate and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, along with physical activity, and adequate sun exposure is imperative for decreasing the risk of chronic diseases and health issues that plague this population. Due to age related changes, older adults should be particularly mindful that they are getting adequate amounts of certain vitamins and minerals. Although it is still impossible to stop the aging process, the rate at which a person ages is entirely within their control. Making the healthy dietary and lifestyle choices today will make for healthful tomorrow.