Nutrition influences overall well-being, especially in the elderly. Based on research, malnutrition is associated with accelerated aging. In fact, maintaining a healthy diet is known to be one of the main influences for healthy aging.

Healthy eating habits, and proper nutrition not only includes the process of food intake but it also includes absorption, digestion, biosynthesis, catabolism and excretion of food. The elderly tend to have more trouble with digestion and absorption of food, lower intake of nutrient rich foods due to oral health, inability to chew, mouth dryness and decreased appetite, which increases their risk of malnutrition.

Inadequate nutrient intake can lead to deficiency-related diseases, with some including anemia, frailty, and blindness. Chronic diseases associated with aging include osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Studies show that in the elderly, there is a decrease in healthy eating habits for nutrient rich foods (i.e., vegetables, fruits) and an increase in carbohydrates due to oral health, or tooth loss. An excessive intake of carbohydrates can increase your risk for diabetes and other comorbidities.

Nutritional therapists have indicated that If the elderly’s diet is low in nutrient-rich and antioxidant property foods, uncontrolled oxidative stress can accelerate the aging process. It is important to get in enough vitamins (C, E) as they interact with free radicals and prevent them from developing. In addition, alterations in gene expression are connected to aging. These genes are known to be involved in the process of nutrient signaling pathways and absorption of food. Due to less stomach acid in the elderly, this could lead to poor absorption of vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and magnesium.

Vitamins and minerals needed in your diet and how to increase your intake:

The elderly are at higher risk for iron-deficiency anemia. Iron can help keep general energy levels up and preserve gastrointestinal processes, the immune system, and the regulation of body temperature.
Food sources: spinach, sweet potatoes, asparagus, tomatoes, beets, kale, cereals, pork, meat, poultry, fish, beans eggs

Plays a role in the immune response, protein synthesis, nerve and muscle function, blood pressure regulation and has several antioxidant properties
Food sources: Almonds, spinach, whole grains, cashews, peanuts, fortified breakfast cereals, black beans, peanut butter, avocado, dark chocolate, brown rice, plain yogurt, banana, kidney beans, salmon chicken, broccoli, apples, tofu

Plays a role in several aspects of cellular metabolism, immune function, wound healing, growth, and development, and is required for proper taste, smell, and protein synthesis
Food sources: cashews, chickpeas, yogurt, and milk products, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, whole grains, and ready-to-eat breakfast cereals (fortified with zinc), seafood, poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, oysters, red meat

Important for immune and thyroid system
Food sources: eggs, brown rice, mushrooms, grain products, dairy products, nuts, seeds, fish, seafood, meat, poultry, spinach

Manganese (Mn)
Low Mn has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
Food sources: brown rice, wheat, barley, rye, quinoa, oats, garlic

Plays a role in many neuronal activities
Food sources: fish, shellfish, cereal grains, eggs, meat, poultry, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, lima beans

Important for bone health – elderly are at risk for osteoporosis, which increases the risk of falls
Food sources: Greek yogurt (protein and calcium), cheese, cottage cheese, leafy vegetables (i.e., kale), almonds, oranges, salmon

Vitamin D
Essential in older ages and facilitates absorption of Ca, also needed for bone health
Food sources: fortified vitamin D milk or almond milk, mushrooms, salmon, tuna, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks
Due to less sun exposure in the Northern Hemisphere, most people need to take vitamin D in a supplement form as little foods from your diet provide adequate vitamin D – get your vitamin D levels checked and talk to your doctor

B Vitamins
Low stomach acid can affect the absorption of vitamin B12. B vitamins are needed to prevent or reduce the severity of diseases
Food sources: whole grains, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, fortified cereals, spinach, oranges

Vitamin C
Known for its immune defense mechanisms, wound healing properties, protein synthesis, and is required for the synthesis of collagen and certain neurotransmitters.
food sources: oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes, red and green
peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, potato

Vitamin A
Anti-aging effect on the skin and has also had a positive effect on cancer cells
Food sources: liver, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, cantaloupe, mango, broccoli, bell peppers, apricots, winter squash

Vitamin E
Immune supporting properties and has been associated with the reduced decline of cognitive abilities in Alzheimer’s disease and also the elderly
Food sources: nuts, seeds, avocado, cereals, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, lettuce, onions, fortified cereals

Vitamin K
An important role in blood clotting, calcium transport, and bone density
Food sources: eggs, meat, tuna, kiwi, avocado, rhubarb, kale, broccoli, spinach, asparagus

Three more important nutrients for the elderly:

Protein Intake
Important to prevent sarcopenia – muscle loss.
Food sources: chicken, fish, pork, turkey, eggs, egg whites, kidney/chickpea beans, peanut butter (2 tbsp), veggie burgers, tofu

Constipation is common in the elderly due to inadequate nutrient intake, dehydration or medications. Constipation is associated with decreased quality of life, OCD, anxiety, paranoid ideations, depression, psychosis
Fiber sources: oatmeal, fruits (apples, berries, pears), vegetables, beans, whole grains

Hydration is important as being dehydrated has several health complications, such as constipation. Keep in mind that anything that is caffeinated acts as a diuretic and dehydrates you.

Aging Well with a Healthy Diet

Making sure you eat healthy foods and maintain a complete diet is even more important as you get older. Developing healthy eating habits is a great way to make sure you look and feel your best. Nutritional Therapists at Behavioral Nutrition are available if you feel your diet can be improved. Contact us to learn more about how our behavioral therapy can help you improve your diet in a way that will allow you to stay healthy as you age.