by Dr. Iain Corness
Diet for healthy seniors
If you are one of the lucky ones, you
are getting older. (The alternative is that you are already dead!) The
average age of westerners is increasing. The more developed countries in
Asia are also showing the same trends. Grey power is becoming an important
factor, with the marketing of goods and services designed for this
increasing niche market. We (me included) are becoming important people.
That’s the up side. Unfortunately, there is a down side (there always is,
isn’t there?) and that is just simply that the longer you live, the more
parts of you that end up wearing out. Knees, hips, ankles, wrists, fingers
come straight to mind. And if you didn’t look after yourself some years ago,
your past indiscretions can surely come round to bite you now!
And talking about ‘biting’, one of the organs that can show the ravages of
time, is your digestive organ, the gut. As the body ages, the
gastrointestinal tract changes and people tend to develop more problems with
constipation for one. The pundits will tell you a high-fiber diet can
prevent that, but many elderly people, especially those with dentures, do
not want to eat the seed-filled or crunchy food that is typically high in
fiber. They go for soft food that is easily chewed, but is often high in
So where can we get some fiber? Try some cooked or baked vegetables, fresh
fruit and high-fiber breakfast cereals as these are some denture-friendly
ways to get fiber in the diet. Beans and black-eyed peas are also nutritious
Another problem, especially in hot climates such as in Thailand, is
insufficient intake of water. The elderly have a decreased thirst and often
do not get enough fluids in their diet. Getting plenty of fluids helps
prevent constipation, because the bowel is a water absorber. The
constipation decreases when fluids are taken generously. Milk, tea, coffee,
soda, ice cream and soup all count as fluids.
Exercise plays a part here too. Get more physical, not less. The amount of
exercise needed depends on the person, but in general, people need to step
up their activity as they get older. Elderly people often do the opposite,
because of bad knees or arthritis. Instead of becoming a couch potato, they
need to walk, bicycle, swim, garden and find other ways to stay on the move.
As we age, our calorie needs decrease due to a drop in muscle strength from
taking less physical activity (see above). However, vitamin and mineral
needs may stay the same or even increase if the body absorbs them less
efficiently. The daily calorific requirement varies from person to person,
but as a very rough guide, males need to drop their calorie intake by around
20 percent after the age of retirement (2,500 cals down to 2,100 cals) and
women from 2,000 down to 1,800 cals.
There are many foods and ingredients needed to retain optimum health,
including those high in Vitamin C, such as blackberries, strawberries,
raspberries, blackcurrants, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, peaches, mango,
cantaloupe melon, and apples.
Vegetables high in Vitamin A (beta-carotene) and Vitamin C including
carrots, squash, sweet potato, tomatoes, spinach, kale, collard greens,
broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onions, leeks and avocado.
Fish should also be included as many are rich in Omega-3 essential fatty
acids and high in Vitamin E, like salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, tuna
and trout. It is also a good idea to substitute white fish in place of red
Some nuts and seeds are also rich in Omega-3 essential fatty acids and high
in Vitamin E, including unsalted nuts, walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts and
almonds, and seeds such as poppy seeds, sunflower, flax seeds and pumpkin
Proteins are also important in the diet for seniors and should include eggs,
white fish, milk, cheese, yogurt, lean meat, chicken, beans and lentils.
Fiber can come from lentils, chick peas (garbanzo beans), brown rice, whole
wheat bread, wheat germ, whole wheat cereals and whole wheat crackers.
A good spread of items, different dishes every day, plenty of water and
moderation in all things seems to be the answer. A glass of red wine gets my
nod of approval too.