How does aging affect your nutritional needs

Full-fledged care in old age

Dipl. Oec. troph. Barbara Treichel

A balanced diet is particularly important for older people. Because they need less energy, but still the same amount of nutrients as when they were young. The Whole food nutrition takes both criteria into account. If it is adapted to age-related changes, it is also ideal for seniors.

For many seniors, eating habits leave a lot to be desired. Consumption surveys and biochemical studies have shown that high-molecular carbohydrates, fiber, unsaturated fatty acids and vegetable protein are far too rarely on the table. Seniors also often do not take in enough of most vitamins and the minerals calcium, iodine and zinc. On the other hand, the energy intake and the fat content of the food are clearly too high. What is on our menu is not only influenced by biological factors; Social, psychological and economic circumstances also have the same effect on nutritional behavior. Meat, flour and large amounts of butter, for example, are often a status symbol for the war generation, who had to endure a lot of hardship. For future generations, this may be fast food and convenience foods. Here it is important to take preventive action today. Because everyone has it in their own hands to enjoy their life to the full through a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet. The prerequisite is that you are aware of the physical changes in old age, accept them and adapt your diet to these changes.

The energy demand decreases

An important change in nutrition is the decrease in human energy requirements with advancing age. As older people usually move less and their muscle mass decreases, their basic requirement decreases. From a statistical point of view, people from the age of 40 constantly need less energy, after the age of 55 their energy requirements even decrease drastically, by around 8 percent every 10 years. This means that about 100 kcal less are used per decade of life.

Healthy seniors today take in significantly more energy than they use. Your intake is about 800 kcal above the actual requirement. Although less and less energy is required, the need for essential nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals remains unchanged. Since older people are sick more often, usually take medication, and exercise less, it is recommended to increase their protein intake a little.

For people aged 51 and over, the energy ingested with food should consist of at least 55-65 percent carbohydrates, 25-30 percent fat and around 10-15 percent protein. This means that the food, although low in energy, must contain a lot of nutrients, that is, have a high nutrient density. This is especially the case with vegetables and fruits, legumes, lean dairy products, potatoes, whole grain products, and lean fish and meat. All foods containing fat and sugar, as well as alcohol, are less suitable. Another reason for this recommendation is the decreasing blood flow and storage capacity of the liver, as a result of which its ability to break down alcohol strongly decreases with age.

Sufficient protein - fat in moderation

The daily protein requirement is about 70 grams for 15 percent of the total energy. Half of the protein should come from animal foods, e.g. B. low-fat dairy products and lean fish or meat, and the other half come from plant-based products such as potatoes, legumes and whole grains. Most older people should also consume significantly less fat. About 40 g of fat per day are sufficient. Half of it can be used as spreadable and cooking fat, i.e. visible fat. It is beneficial to use both high-quality vegetable fats, e.g. Eat oil, as well as easily digestible animal fats such as butter. The hidden fats in fat sausage, cheese, chocolate and cake should not be overlooked. The need for carbohydrates amounts to at least 250 g per day. Here it is beneficial to prefer foods that contain high molecular weight carbohydrates, e.g. B. starch included. These are primarily cereals, whole grain breads, vegetables and potatoes. These foods are also rich in fiber, which is very helpful in the widespread constipation of older women. The daily fiber content should therefore be at least 30 g.

Don't forget to drink

Older people should drink at least 1.5 liters per day in order to absorb sufficient fluids. Since the feeling of thirst diminishes considerably over the years, drinking must first be trained again. This is achieved if a not too large amount is drunk at regular intervals, e.g. B. 0.1 liter every hour. It is also helpful to always have a full glass in view that reminds you of drinking. Calorie-free or low-calorie drinks such as water, unsweetened herbal or fruit teas, and diluted fruit juices help make up for the loss of total body water. If carbonated mineral waters cause stomach discomfort and flatulence, "still water" can be drunk instead.

Hormonal changes during menopause reduce bone mass in women by an average of 35 percent. But even in men, around 12 percent of the bone substance is lost. In order to maintain the state of bone density, a sufficient intake of calcium is urgently required. This does not, however, eliminate osteoporosis. Anyone who consumes half a liter of low-fat milk or corresponding amounts of lean milk products a day has a sufficient supply of calcium.

Smaller meals spread over the day

In some cases, the sense of taste and smell decreases with age. However, this should not encourage you to add more salt to the food. It is better to season the food with spices and fresh herbs so that the digestive secretions and the appetite are stimulated. This also adds variety to the food and avoids monotony. Paprika, curry, nutmeg, pepper, caraway or cinnamon can be used as spices. Celery, lovage, dill, basil, thyme, oregano, lemon balm or sage give the dishes a fine aroma. In addition, onions and garlic are of course very good for seasoning. Salt should only be used in small amounts, preferably as iodized table salt. Besides sea fish, iodized salt is the most important source of the mineral iodine.

Instead of eating larger portions 3 times a day, it is more digestible to eat around 5 to 6 smaller meals. In this way, the digestive organs and the insulin metabolism are less stressed. Food cravings occur less often, the ability to concentrate and the ability to perform are retained. In addition, the even distribution of meals throughout the day helps to structure the daily routine.

Whole food nutrition appropriate for the age

Since older people often have dental problems and the associated chewing problems, the fresh food portion of the Whole food nutrition occasionally cause trouble. However, if the vegetables and fruits are finely grated, they can usually also be eaten raw. Freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices can also contribute to the supply of vitamins and minerals if you have difficulty chewing or swallowing. If raw vegetables or fruit are not tolerated, they can be briefly blanched in a little liquid or stewed until they are bite-proof and then mashed if necessary. This is preferable to a long soft boil because of the better nutrient balance. Homemade mashed potatoes are a good alternative to boiled or boiled potatoes if you have chewing problems.

Whole grain products don't have to be coarse and hard. The whole grain can be eaten as porridge, ground in casseroles and soups or in the form of flakes in muesli. Instead of whole-grain bread with whole grains, fine breadcrumbs, graham bread and breads with a loosened crust such as wheat germ bread are suitable. Whole-grain toast, crispbread and whole-grain rusks are also available as alternatives. Some older people can no longer tolerate milk as well. Instead, you can eat sour milk products such as yogurt, curd milk, kefir or buttermilk. They are generally easy to digest and also have a slight laxative effect. The lactic acid bacteria have already carried out a certain pre-digestion by breaking down the lactose. Long-matured cheeses such as old Gouda, Emmentaler or Parmesan are also well tolerated, as the long maturation loosens and partially breaks down the structure of the milk protein. If meat cannot be chewed as well, small amounts of steamed minced meat, poultry and especially fish can be used.

Wholesome menu with variety

Physical frailty or disabilities, confusion and forgetfulness often lead to downright neglect of eating. Outside help is necessary here to ensure shopping and a varied menu. Financial problems can be alleviated by buying inexpensive seasonal vegetables and fruits from local growing areas, dairy products and whole-grain bread. Legumes such as lentils, peas and beans are also ideal for a price-conscious supply of nutrients. Those who eat less meat and sausage at the same time have more money available for fresh products.

These nutritional recommendations are suitable for all people who do not have to follow a special diet and can still take care of themselves. But they also apply to many diseases such as diabetes, lipid metabolism disorders, hypertension, gout or obesity. This means that sparing use of fat, meat, alcohol and sugar is advisable for all illnesses, whereas vegetables, fruit, potatoes, whole grain products and low-fat dairy products should be regular components of the menu. In this respect, the recommendations for the elderly do not differ from those for the rest of the population. Such a varied diet is the best guarantee that all nutrients will be absorbed in sufficient quantities.

Spiced up food on wheels

Older people who can no longer provide themselves with meals or who have not learned to cook, as is the case with many single men, can take advantage of facilities such as "meals on wheels". These services are a great way to get a warm lunch on a regular basis. Unfortunately, keeping food warm for a long time can lead to significant vitamin losses. In addition, the food delivered is usually cooked food. Raw vegetables, lettuce and fresh fruit are often missing. The food delivered can be upgraded with simple additions: for example, with fresh fruit as dessert, raw vegetables as a side dish for lunch and dinner, fresh herbs with the dishes and a high-fiber diet for breakfast and dinner. Low-fat dairy products such as yogurt can be consumed with snacks between meals.

The ultimate goal of all efforts towards an age-appropriate, balanced diet is to avoid or delay the occurrence of diet-related diseases. In this way, well-being, health and performance can be maintained for a long time and the quality of life increased.

Suggestion for an optimal, full-fledged daily plan

Muesli made from grain (flakes), fruit, dairy products, some nuts or other seeds or whole grain rolls with a little butter or margarine and a little jam, with low-fat quark or whole-grain bread with a lean topping

1. Snack:
Fruit or some wholemeal biscuits or milk or dairy products, e.g. B. yogurt or buttermilk

Having lunch:
Salad plate, whole wheat pasta, legumes or potatoes, vegetables, occasionally some meat or an egg or some fish

2. Snack:
Fruit or a mug of yoghurt or 1/2 slice of wholemeal bread or an occasional piece of wholemeal cake

Salad, 1-2 slices of wholemeal bread, if possible with low-fat cheese, vegetable spread or herbal quark

Eventual late meal:
Fruit or some whole grain biscuits

BECKER, H.-G .: Nourishing in old age. aid consumer service 40/12, pp. 276-279, 1995
BRODHAGEN, D .: Nutritional education for the elderly. Dissertation. Asgard, Hippe 1993
KOERBER V., K., MĂ„NNLE, T .; LEITZMANN, C .: Whole Food Diet, Conception of a Modern Diet. 8th edition, Haug, Heidelberg 1994
CONSUMER CENTERS HAMBURG AND HESSEN: Eating healthily in old age - a guide for retirement and nursing homes and social centers. 3rd edition, Hamburg 1995

Source: Treichel, B .: UGB-Forum 6/96, pp. 318-321

Photo: uschi dreucker /

Seminar tip
Well nourished in old age and with dementia

This article is taken from the UGB archive.

We would like to point out that the content may have to be re-evaluated due to new scientific findings.