Diet and Aging

Americans are living longer and there’s no doubt that good nutrition can help older people live better. Take this true-or-false quiz to find out more...
1. Dehydration is a major concern for older adults. True or False?
True. Tufts University’s modified MyPlate for ages 70+ puts water at its foundation, recommending at least eight cups per day. Older, less active folks often just don’t feel thirsty. Kidney function also declines with age.
2. Calorie needs increase with age. True or False?
False. In fact, calorie needs decrease with age because of the loss of lean body mass (muscle) and less activity.
3. By age 70, it’s too late to start worrying about a healthy diet. True or False?
False. While calorie needs decrease, a healthy diet is a senior’s ticket to a better quality of life. A balanced, nutrient-dense intake can help prevent or treat chronic diseases like osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
4. An older person may need a vitamin or mineral supplement. True or False?
True. Aging increases your need for certain nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, and the B vitamins. While food is usually the best source, a supplement may be necessary in some cases. To avoid potential drug-nutrient interactions and other complications, all supplement use should be approved by a physician or registered dietitian.
5. Seniors need to be concerned with calcium intake. True or False?
True. Calcium is vital to keep bones and teeth in good shape. Low-fat dairy products and calcium-fortified foods and beverages can help the senior who cannot tolerate or doesn’t like milk. Otherwise, a supplement may be needed. Non-milk drinkers may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency if they live up north or don’t get outside.
6. Deficiencies in B-vitamins are common in seniors. True or False?
True. For various reasons, older persons don’t always get enough of the important B-vitamins, especially folic acid (found in green leafy vegetables, orange juice, beans, and whole grains) and vitamin B12 (found in milk, eggs, meat, and poultry). Folic acid keeps homocysteine levels in check, which can decrease risk for heart attack and stroke. Even mild deficiencies of vitamin B-12 can lead to neurological symptoms like impaired balance and mental confusion. Seniors who cannot get enough of these nutrients from foods should discuss a supplement with their physician.
7. Antioxidants help keep older immune systems ready to fight disease. True or False?
True. Vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C all play a role in preventing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Vitamin C joins vitamin A and zinc to aid in wound healing, which can speed up recovery from surgery. The best way to get the antioxidants and other disease-fighting phytochemicals is through a diet rich in deep-colored fruits and vegetables and whole grain breads and cereals.
8. Many older people don’t get enough protein. True or False?
True. Protein is vital to heal or fight disease. Good heart healthy sources include fish, nuts and beans.
9. High fiber foods should be a part of everyone’s diet, regardless of age. True of False?
True. You really can’t go wrong with fiber. Insoluble fiber (whole wheat bread, skins of fruits and vegetables) prevents constipation and controls diverticulosis. Soluble fiber (beans, peas, oats, barley, fruits, vegetables) can help lower cholesterol levels.
10. Social isolation or loneliness can cause malnutrition in many older people. True or False?
True. Simply having someone to share a meal with makes a big difference. Most communities have congregate meal sites or home meal delivery for adults over age 60. Contact the Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 or go to www.aoa.gov.
By Hollis Bass, MEd, RD

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