Why Your Nutritional Needs Change As You Grow Older
As you grow older and approach the age of Medicare enrollment, your body changes in many ways. Because of this, how your body processes food also changes, and this will have an impact on your diet, nutritional needs, and your appetite.
It’s no secret that growing older means your metabolism is going to slow down. When your metabolism slows down, you don’t burn as many calories as quickly as you did before, and that means you don’t need to eat as much to maintain a healthy weight. A lack of exercise causes your metabolism to slow down even more than it might otherwise, also contributing to the need to eat less.
To compensate for a slowing metabolism and the need to eat less food, as you age you should begin to shift to a diet that is as nutrient-rich as possible. It’s estimated that men with average activity levels will need about 2,300 calories daily, while women will need about 1,800 calories to maintain a healthy weight. If you get little exercise or are housebound due to illnesses or other health related issues, then that sedentary lifestyle means you need even fewer calories.
As your metabolism changes, your digestive system also changes as well. When you grow older, your body produces less of the fluids you need to process food in your digestive system. This means that it is more difficult for your body to absorb nutrients such as folic acid, vitamins B12 and B6 and others, that are critical for your optimum health. Because of this, you need to increase your intake of these nutrients to make sure you get the same levels of them as when you were younger.
Other digestive problems that increase as you age may include chronic gastritis, constipation, gas or sour stomach issues. Many times, this may cause seniors to avoid healthy fruits and vegetables, increasing the likelihood of malnutrition. Taking medications can cause an appetite to be depressed or it can result in a chronic upset stomach, both of which can also lead to malnutrition.
Another food challenge seniors face is that as the body ages, changes take place in taste and smell. A common complaint among seniors is that food does not taste the same or as good as it did in the past. The decrease in the functioning of taste buds means that the taste for salty and sweet also decreases, and many times that can make food taste more sour and bitter. The loss of smell also means that there is less anticipation and satisfaction when choosing foods, sometimes contributing to poor food choices.
A common but frequently overlooked health problem that contributes to nutrition issues in seniors are dental issues. When teeth can wear out, become hyper-sensitive, or are removed, it can lead to seniors avoiding certain types of hard or sticky foods. Dentures that don’t fit right or that produce pain in gums also make it difficult to enjoy food, which can lead to not eating properly or sometimes, not at all.
Psychological and Social Issues
Psychological and social issues can come into play as a person ages, and they definitely impact nutrition. Seniors who are depressed or lonely often times lose interest in eating. In some cases, just the opposite is true, and a senior may seek solace in food and eat too much, putting on many unwanted pounds.
Malnutrition may also come about as the result of:
- A loss of a spouse or other family member
- Financial concerns and the ability to afford food
- The inability to go grocery shopping due to health or psychological issues
- Hospitalization which changes a senior’s diet and adds stress, resulting in a rejection of food.
Many nutrition issues can be minimized with the creation of a nutrition plan, either with the help of a trained dietician or self-administered after doing appropriate research.