Diet for Older Adults: Strategies and Menus for Eating Properly

What to eat or not, recommended amounts of food and useful tips

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By Alex

Diet for older adults

In this article, we will review some strategies to improve the diet for older adults. In fact, many elderly people do not eat properly. Out of laziness and indolence, many tend to eat a monotonous diet that is often too poor. On the other hand, some tend instead to indulge and consume elaborate and caloric dishes. But following a healthy diet is essential at all times. At various stages of life we need specific nutrients in certain amounts. Aging is a completely natural process during which we undergo various physical changes. For this reason, one’s diet must be adapted to the new needs of one’s body.

In the elderly, especially, it is essential to avoid and prevent nutritional deficiencies that can degenerate into a state of malnutrition. On the other hand, it is also important to follow a simple and light diet to avoid incurring diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases. In this article we are going to look together at the basic principles of the diet for older adults.

Diet for older adults: the main nutritional problems of the over-80s

Older people generally tend to eat poorly. They often live alone and get lazy about cooking, so they end up eating little and poorly. They eat a monotonous and unvarying diet, which almost always consists of cold cuts, cheeses, ready meals, and cooked fruits and vegetables. In addition, because of the teething problems that afflict many elderly people, many of them just eat the usual soft and squishy foods, such as cheeses, puddings, and creamy desserts. These are all foods that should not be eaten regularly because they are too high in fat and, respectively, salt and sugar.

For one reason or another, in short, the elderly make many dietary mistakes that, if prolonged over time, can cause serious consequences:

  • malnutrition
  • weight loss
  • general fatigue and asthenia
  • low resistance to infection risk

It should also be pointed out that there are cases of improper diet in the opposite direction as well. Elderly people then get carried away and indulge in enjoying life at the table. Disregarding their own health, they follow high-calorie diets, preferring elaborate dishes rich in fat and calories, often accompanied by an excessive number of glasses of wine.

In such cases, the consequences can be:

  • overweight
  • digestive disorders
  • blood sugar disorders
  • cardiovascular disorders
  • onset or aggravation of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia

Diet for older adults: the nutrients that should not be missed

During old age, it is important not to be lacking certain nutrients. In particular, the diet for the elderly should not lack:

  • proteins, to counteract the loss of muscle mass, which is responsible for fractures and disability risk
  • fibers, for proper intestinal functioning
  • antioxidants, to prevent cognitive impairment and cardiovascular disease
  • vitamin E
  • calcium: the recommended dose after age 70 is 1000 mg/day, especially in women, to prevent or reduce the onset or progression of osteoporosis
  • vitamin c, to strengthen the immune system
  • folic acid, capable of lowering blood homocysteine levels, which is related to the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular disease
  • vitamin D, which allows good calcium absorption
  • potassium: useful for blood pressure
  • pagnesium, very important for relaxation of cells, especially those of the heart
  • zinc: effective in protecting against diseases of the immune system

Diet for older adults: foods to favor

The diet for the elderly should be varied and well balanced, consisting ofsimple and light foods.
Below are the foods that should not be lacking in the diet of the over-80s.

  • Wholemeal cereals, pasta and quinoa
  • Legumes, such as lentils, beans and fava beans, all of them being excellent vegetable protein source
  • Veggies: raw and cooked should not be missing from every meal. Seasonal salads, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers are good.
  • White meat (chicken or turkey) 2-3 times a week
  • Red beef max 1-2 times a week
  • Fish, especially mackerel, anchovies, and canned tuna that contain polyunsaturated fatty acids and omega 3
  • Low-fat cheeses such as cottage cheese
  • Low-fat dairy products, and thus skim milk and low-fat yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Fresh, seasonal fruit 
  • “Good” fats: olive oil, avocado
  • Spices and lemon juice, to season and give more flavor to dishes
  • Water: at least 8 glasses a day, also replace with unsweetened herbal teas and infusions

Diet for older adults: foods to avoid

Let’s now see what foods to avoid or indulge in only occasionally.

  • Red meat
  • Fried foods
  • Salted meats
  • Sausages
  • Fatty cheeses
  • Packaged foods
  • Sugars (cookies, cakes, candies, various sweets, soft drinks)
  • Alcoholic beverages

Even during old age, it is important to try to maintain a steady weight, especially considering that, the older you get, the more physical activity decreases. For this reason, experts recommend avoiding meals that are too large, deli or frozen meals (which are usually exaggeratedly high in fat and salt), and very elaborate preparations.

Also to be excluded, unless required as necessary by special medical treatment, is the intake of vitamin supplements or antioxidant substances.

Diet for older adults: example menu scheme

Taking into account an elderly person (over 80) in good health and without any particular disease, here are some examples of a dietary pattern to be taken as a model for deciding what to eat in the various meals of the day.

Breakfast

  • Tea, barley coffee, fruit juice
  • Skimmed milk
  • Fresh and dried fruits
  • Rusks with jam or honey

Lunch

  • First course: pasta topped with simple fresh tomato sauce or with oil and grated cheese or plain rice or with vegetables
  • Second course: minced meat, fish fillets, omelet, tuna, low-fat cheese spread
  • Veggies to taste as a side dish

Dinner

  • First course: plain rice with oil and a grating of cheese or with vegetables, semolina, vegetable soups, vegetable or beef broth, legume soups
  • Second course: white meat, fish fillets, low-fat cheese spread
  • Veggies to taste as a side dish

Should you prefer a single course in the evening, it is better to prefer a more proteic second course rather than a first course.

diet for the elderly - Diet for older adults
Fresh fruit also plays a very important role during old age.

Snacks

  • Fruits
  • Yogurt
  • Baked fruit
  • Fresh fruit salad
  • Fruit jellies
  • Rice balls
  • Crackers
  • Orange juice
  • Tisanes

Diet for seniors: other useful tips

  • Make more frequent light meals(4-5 throughout the day so as not to weigh down digestion)
  • Don’t make portions too large
  • Chew food for a long time
  • Always eat breakfast
  • Never skip dinner or even replace it with soup or the classic cup of milk
  • Prefer simple preparations, without too much fat, sauces and salt
  • Eat vegetables, cooked or raw, and at least one ripe seasonal fruit
  • Every day eat vegetables, cooked or raw, and at least one ripe seasonal fruit
  • Drink water even if you do not feel the thirst stimulus
  • Enjoy a glass of beer or low-gravity wine during meals
  • Avoid eating dinner too late, and in any case too close to bedtime. Ideally, allow at least 2-3 hours between dinner and bedtime

Diet for bedridden elderly

With serious medical conditions, some elderly people are bedridden. In such cases, it is essential to follow a diet that avoids the occurrence of complications, such as bedsores.

Specifically:

  • follow a balanced diet low in fat
  • limit sugars, especially if the person has diabetes
  • drink at least 1 liter of water daily (5 glasses throughout the day)
  • consume vegetables, raw or cooked, in quantity (at least one portion at each meal) trying to vary so as to introduce vitamins and minerals correctly and completely
  • in case of difficulty chewing, prefer boiled vegetables and centrifuges

Diet for older adults: the most common questions

As people get older, they become loss of appetite. In addition, needs change and one may suffer from particular diseases. A concomitance of factors so it is good to adapt one’s diet to the natural aging of the body, which is no longer able – and no longer needs – to absorb all the nutrients that are needed instead during other stages of life.

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the elderly diet.

What an 80-year-old senior should eat

In general, the elderly should eat a light diet. As a first course, a plate of pasta or rice simply dressed with good olive oil and a sprinkling of grated cheese is recommended. As protein sources, prefer soft meat and soft fish fillets. In case of chewing difficulties, arrange to mince both meat and fish for easier consumption.

Diet for older adults: breakfast tips for the elderly

An elderly person who leads a rather sedentary life can start the day with a barley coffee and a cup of milk or yogurt. To complete the breakfast, a rusk with a teaspoon of jam or, if preferred, honey.

Diet for older adults: what the elderly should eat for dinner

Dinner should be the lightest meal of the day, all the more so for the elderly. A typical dinner can therefore consist of a small portion of bread (or pasta or rice or other grains), plus a little soft meat or fish, accompanied by a side of vegetables, raw or cooked, as desired.

Diet for older adults: what vegetables should be eaten

The most suitable vegetables for the elderly are carrots, broccoli, zucchini, spinach and tomatoes.

How much pasta should an elderly person eat

Before the age of 65, the average portion of pasta is 80 g for men and 70 g for women. Until the age of 80, the quantities should be reduced, and thus, a plate of pasta drops to 70 gr for him and 60 gr for her, respectively. Once you pass 80 years of age, the portions decrease again to 60 and 50 gr. Generally, then, the older one is, the more it is preferable to favor short pasta shapes that are easier to chew and swallow.

How to feed an elderly person who is not eating

In case of inappetence, offer favorite foods, preferably rather tasty, soft and easy to swallow. Also, offer small portions of food and small sips of water throughout the day.

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