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Power nutrients and vitamins for the elderly

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 power nutrientsPhoto: Shutterstock

As we get older, chewing and swallowing problems as well as our declining ability to taste food are triggers that can reduce normal food intake, in turn preventing our body from getting adequate nutrients and vitamins.

As such, it is paramount to pay particular attention to incorporating these essential nutrients and vitamins to ensure a well-balanced diet:

1.    Calcium

Calcium is important to maintain strong bones and teeth, aid blood clotting, and regular heart contractions. However, calcium levels in our bones reduce as we age, putting us at risk for osteoporosis – a condition in which bones become brittle and prone to fractures - and osteomalacia, or the softening of the bones.

Milk and dairy products such as yogurt and cheese (preferably low-fat or fat-free), dark-green leafy vegetables (like broccoli and kale), bread, pulses, nuts and seeds, dried fruit, as well as calcium-fortified juices are all good options to increase our calcium intake. Elderly members who face trouble chewing or suffer from dryness in the mouth may opt to drink smoothies made from fruits, yogurt and even the occasional vegetable.

If necessary, consult your doctor or pharmacist to aid you in purchasing calcium supplements with the right amounts of calcium needed by your body. Prevent constipation as a result of taking calcium supplements by eating fibre-rich foods, drinking plenty of fluids and exercising.

 2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D supports the body’s absorption of calcium, in turn maintaining bone density. Besides that, it also protects the body against heart diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune diseases.

Exposure to sunlight induces the production of vitamin D. As such, members of the elderly who are housebound or live in institutions may face vitamin D deficiency. They can make up for this by ingesting more cereal, juice, yogurt and milk. Alternatively, tuna, eggs, salmon and fish liver oils are also good sources of vitamin D.

3. Omega-3 Fat

Found primarily in fish, omega-3 fatty acids’ best-established benefits have been demonstrated in the elderly. It has been shown to slow down arteriosclerosis and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Furthermore, studies have indicated that omega-3 can lower the risk of dementia.

Nutritionists recommend at least two servings of fish each week, preferably tuna, salmon, sardine or mackerel - as they are all rich sources of omega-3. For vegans, they may opt for walnuts, flaxseed, canola oil, and soybeans instead.

Omega-3 supplements are also available, but remember to consult your doctor prior to taking any supplements.

4. Fibre

Did you know that eating foods high in dietary fibre does more than simply aid digestion? Some other health benefits include lowering the risk of stroke and heart disease, aiding in weight loss, and improving the condition of the skin.

It is important to include more fibre in our diet when we age, as our digestion process becomes less efficient. Females over the age of 50 should take in at least 21 grams of fibre each day, while males over 50 need at least 30 grams per day.

Generally, unprocessed and natural foods contain more fibre. Some examples of these include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. To maximise fibre intake and consume fewer calories, eat whole fruits (without peeling, as it reduces the amount of fibre in the fruit) instead of drinking fruit juice.

You may also start your day with a high-fibre, whole grain cereal, adding in a couple of table spoons of fresh or dried fruit, or unprocessed wheat bran if you feel like it.

5. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is beneficial in several conditions that commonly plague the elderly. These include dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and anxiety. Additionally, it also aids in melatonin production, which works to ensure we get a good night’s sleep.
Foods that contain high levels of B12 include eggs, milk, dairy products, meat and poultry. Alternatively, you may consult your doctor as to whether you require a B12 supplement.

Besides taking care of your diet, it is also important to have six to eight hours of quality sleep daily and drink plenty of water. Additionally, you should maintain a regular exercise routine by doing simple stretches or weight-bearing exercises, in order to enjoy healthy aging.
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