Nutrition for the Older Adult

brain-healthAs people age, the amount of calories needed declines. The foods we consume must be packed full of nutrition to get what we need. Even then, our bodies may become less efficient at absorbing some nutrients. Cognitive function is often believed to decline as we age. Although the evidence directly linking healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices to cognitive function isn’t strong, new research continues to suggest these two things may prolong brain function.Overall, a diet rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, omega-3 fatty acids, certain vitamins and minerals have been shown to promote both brain and overall health as we age.

Phytochemicals are plant chemicals that help protect against disease. There are thousands of phytochemicals which help to prevent inflammation, stimulate the immune system, and reduce oxidative damage to cells. A few of the most common are lycopene in tomatoes, isoflavones in soy, flavonoids in fruit, and polyphenols in tea and grapes. Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake is the easiest way to increase intake of phytochemicals.

Antioxidants are substances that may prevent or delay cell damage. The body makes some antioxidants however relies on external sources, primarily in the diet, to obtain the rest in needs. The three major antioxidant vitamins are beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E. You will also find these in colorful fruits and vegetables.

Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats that have a wide range of benefits, including possibly reducing symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis and slowing age-related macular degeneration. Some new evidence suggests that omega-3s may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  Consume at least two servings of fish a week (salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel are high in omega-3 fats) as well as vegetable sources (soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed, and canola oil).

Research for cognition on older adults has focused on folate and vitamin B12. Folate is used for energy production in the brain. Older adults who do not eat fortified cereals or enough fruits and vegetables may fall short of this key nutrient. Vitamin B12 is important for maintaining healthy nerve function. Vitamin B12 absorption does decrease with age so increase your intake with fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products.

Calcium intake often decreases as we age. If you do not take in enough calcium it will leach out of your bones, causing them to become weak and brittle. It is recommended that we get three servings a day of low-fat milk and other dairy products. Other good dietary sources of calcium include kale and broccoli, as well as juices fortified with calcium.

Vitamin D works hand-in-hand with calcium to help absorb the mineral. Diets lacking in Vitamin D can contribute to osteoporosis and increased risk of falls. Sunlight is our number one source, but many foods are fortified with vitamin D, such cereals, milk, some yogurts, and juices.

With age, our sense of thirst may decrease. Certain medicines also increase the risk for becoming dehydrated. Water is especially important if you are increasing the fiber in your diet, since it absorbs water. It is recommended you drink at least 3 to 5 large glasses of water each day.

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