Dieting in old age: how to eat right and live better

Throughout our entire lives, our diet directly affects our health. For our bodies to function properly, our diets need to be balanced and based on our needs; rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals. With advanced age, the risk of malnutrition increases due to a combination of different factors. Malnutrition can occur in two forms: the quantitative form and the qualitative form, in which either the amount of energy supplied or the composition of the foods are inadequate. Consequently, the risk of obesity or malnutrition rises.

Strong differences in nutritional status can have serious health consequences, as such differences lower our performance while also increasing the risk of developing a variety of diseases. They can also have a negative effect on our overall quality of life and our life expectancy. For this reason, older people should get their nutritional status checked regularly. A simple and cost-effective option is regular weighing at home. However, people should also have their weight checked during each visit to the doctor, in order to detect negative developments at an early stage.

Every kilo matters

Specifically designed to meet the needs of different patient groups, seca offers a wide range of universal floor and column scales, chair or wheelchair scales for patients with limited mobility, as well as other measuring systems. To optimize the measuring and weighing procedures for outpatient and inpatient care, the seca 287 dp ultrasonic measuring station was specially developed to guide patients independently through the measuring process by means of voice output. The device determines the height and body weight of the patients in just one step, then sends the measurement data wirelessly to a computer where it can be seamlessly inserted into an electronic patient record. Thus, regular check-ups can be carried out with minimal time and effort.

Malnutrition versus supernutrition

There are many causes for malnutrition in old age. For one, the appetite tends to sink due to decreased feelings of hunger, sensations of taste and olfactory senses. But also social factors, as well as limited mobility and financial constraints, make it increasingly difficult to buy and prepare food. In addition, acute and chronic diseases can negatively affect the nutritional status of older people. Often, weight, that has been lost acutely, cannot be fully regained, resulting in the course of a gradual weight loss.

Not only malnutrition but also supernutrition (overeating) are serious health problems. The total amount of obese people in the population is steadily rising. This development also affects older people. The causes are, above all, a bad diet or a diet that is not need-based, as well as a lack of physical activity. As dietary requirements change over the course of our lives, eating habits often persist. The amount of calories we consume remain constant or even increase over the years, although our energy requirements decline.

age-related energy and nutritional requirements
age-related energy and nutritional requirements

Choosing the right combination 

Older people represent a very heterogeneous group of people, in terms of their state of health and physical activity. For this reason, their diets need to be based on individual needs. Generally speaking, the basal metabolic rate decreases over the course of our lives and our diets need to be adjusted accordingly. A 65-year-old person needs about 10% less calories a day, compared to a person who is between 25 and 50 years old. Our supplied energy should consist of 50% carbohydrates. Whole grains are preferable because of their high content of long-chain carbohydrates and fiber.

One third of our daily energy needs should be met by fats, with food products that are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, such as saltwater fish, oils, nuts and legumes. The consumption of highly-processed, ready-to-eat products should be reduced due to their large quantities of saturated fatty acids. The remainder of a daily diet should consist of proteins. It should be noted that protein requirements beyond the age of 65 increase by up to 20%. As a guideline, this age group's daily intake should consist of one gram of protein per kilo of body weight for normal physical activity. Insufficient protein intake increases the risk of losing muscle mass and developing sarcopenia. Overeating may also lead to sarcopenia, so-called ‘sarcopenic obesity’, which is characterized by a loss of muscle mass and a simultaneous increase in fat mass. The need for vitamins and minerals, however, remains largely identical or may increase slightly. Overall, our dietary requirements increase over the course of our lives. Older people should eat high-quality foods that are low in calories and at the same time provide all the necessary nutrients. Adhering to an age- and needs-based diet is one of the cornerstones of maintaining good health and can thus make a significant contribution to our quality of life and general physical fitness long term.

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