The Diet for Elders

We build our body and character by our intake of food

Are any changes in the food habit necessary in the later years of life? At the outset we may say that there is no basic difference between the diet of the young and that of the elderly. We only have to take into consideration the decrements in physiological functions of the body, including digestion, which decrease with age, the reduced needs of the body for energy production consequent to reduced physical activity, and certain disease conditions which are more common during the Later years of life, which place restrictions on certain foods. 

As the energy requirements of the body decrease, the amount of food intake should be correspondingly reduced, otherwise you will be adding to body weight, which is not healthy. Moreve, reduced intake of food will be easy on your digestion. Secondly, you should rest a while after meals and not rush to work or exercise, because a large amount of blood is diverted to the abdomen for digestion and less is available for the needs of the heart. For the same reason sexual intercourse should be avoided for a few hours after the meal. 

A diet that provides for all our metabolic needs, but is very low in calories increases the life span. Recent research has shown that low calorie diet of 20 calories per kg of ideal body weight increases the life span of experimental animals by almost 40 per cent. This diet is sufficient for body needs but it is non-fattening. For instance, if a person’s ideal (not actual) weight is 70 kg he needs only 1400 calories per day. Most of the extra calories in our diet are contributed by refined sugar and fats (ghee, butter and vegetable oils). They are for the most part empty calories and contain little else. To obtain a healthy diet, you will have to cut down the consumption of these articles of food and concentrate your attention on vegetables, fruit, cereals, pulses, low-fat milk and its products. 

Nutritious food is one that contains all the essential nutrients -proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. A well balanced diet should contain all these in correct proportions and adequate amounts. Proteins, fats and carbohydrates provide the energy required for various activities. Vitamins and minerals do not supply the energy but play an important role in the regulation of several essential metabolic processes in the body. The food should be nutritious, though small in amount. The quality not quantity matters. Even a sparse diet can be nutritious. For example 100 gms of wheat contains nearly 12 gms protein, while the same quantity of rice has only 6.4 gms protein. Similarly, 100 gms Ragi contains 344 mg of Calcium. 

The food should be mainly vegetarian, with milk and milk products, though ghee and butter may be restricted because of their high cholesterol content. For the same reason milk may be allowed to stand for a few hours and cream may be skimmed off before consumption. The best cooking medium for regular use is any vegetable oil which does not solidify in cold weather: These oils are low in saturated fats. Highly greasy dishes or fried foods should be avoided as they add to the body weight. For the same reason sweets need to be restricted. Ghee and butter need to be restricted but need not be cut down altogether, unless some health problems, like heart disease, prohibits it. Bread and chapatis should be made from whole grain wheat flour (atta) and not from refined flour (maida) from which the fibre has been removed. The elderly require sufficient fibre or roughage in their diet to avoid constipation. This fibre is undigestable carbohydrate present in the food. Rough fibre is not well-tolerated by the intestine in old people. But the tender fibre of vegetable, fruits and whole grain cereals will encourage normal bowel movements. The elderly tend to use harmful laxatives and mineral oils. This should be substituted by a fibre-rich diet and adequate fluid intake. Some good source of dietary fibre are: Ragi, Wheat, Italian Millet, Horsegram, Green, leafy vegetables, Plantain stem, Drumstick, Bittergourd, fruits like dates, figs, guava, wood apple and sweet lime. 

Pulses have good amount of proteins and should be taken adequately. Regarding non-vegetarian diet, it has to be said that fish is positively useful for the heart, chicken and fowl have no disadvantage while mutton, beef and pork may preferably be restricted. Avoid organ meats in particular because of their high cholesterol content. Eggs should also be taken in strict moderation, less than 5 per week. The yolk (yellow part) contains the highest amount of cholesterol. The consumption of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds should be increased for their vitamin, mineral and fibre contents. Their antioxidant factors prevent many diseases and delay the degenerative process of ageing.

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