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Special nutritional needs for seniors

Increased life expectancy and longevity of the population is one of the important developments of the 20th century. Appropriate and adequate nutrition is essential to the health and well being of elderly. Generally the elderly people are nutritionally most vulnerable, primarily due to, age-related digestive problems and poor nutrient intake.1

Age slows down metabolism and hence one needs fewer calories than younger adults. It then becomes all the more important that the foods that are taken in are rich in essential vitamins and minerals. The key is efficiently eating foods that maximize nutritional value of a meal, and not simply add calories.

Nutrients that call for special attention as you age are the micronutrients like calcium, vitamin A, D, and K. Among macronutrients, it is important to obtain protein from the diet in adequate quantities. Inadequate protein intake contributes to a decrease in reserve capacity, increased skin fragility, decreased immune function, poorer healing, and longer recuperation from illness.2 Fiber, though a non nutrient component, also plays an important role in maintaining good health.

Do not get bogged down by these considerations. What is equally important is to enjoy your meals. Meeting the nutrient requirements is not as difficult as it might seem, simply pick and choose smartly from the following foods:

Grains: Choose whole grains over processed ones. Traditional Indian diets include a variety of whole grains and their products. Thankfully we, Indians still choose fresh homemade foods to processed store bought items. So this makes it easy. Just ensure that you are eating a variety of whole grain cereals like jowar, bajra, ragi, etc. An easy way of doing this is alternating your regular wheat flour rotis with different flours or mixed flours.

Veggies& Fruits: Pick dark and deep colored fruits and vegetables.3 They are rich in vitamins, minerals and anti oxidants. They also provide with fiber. Focus on whole fruits rather than juices for more fiber and vitamins. The red leafy amaranthus (rajkeera), dark green palak, sarson, red pumpkin, beetroot, etc. can be included regularly in diet. Local and indigenous fruits are often richer than their expensive, imported counterparts - fruits like Amla, guvava, jamun, karonda berries are rich sources of antioxidants.

Eating a variety from the above two groups will take care of most of your energy, vitamin, fiber and antioxidant needs. However to fulfill the rest of your nutrient needs including calcium and protein needs, the following tips will help:

Calcium: Ensure your calcium requirements by consuming skimmed milk or low fat milk. Similarly, all milk products will also give you calcium but caution needs to be exercised with high fat sources like khoya, paneer and cheese. Non diary sources include tofu, broccoli or our very own Indian millet ragi.

Protein: Fulfill your protein needs by consuming lean meats like poultry, fish, etc. Vegetarian sources of protein include cereal-pulse combinations like dals and rice, beans and rice, etc.

Water4: With increasing age, the body’s ability to regulate fluid levels is affected. This is coupled with a diminished sense of thirst. Maintaining correct water balance is a vital component of good health. The metabolic changes that come along with aging put seniors at a risk of dehydration. Post a note in your kitchen reminding you to sip water every hour to keep you well hydrated and avoid urinary tract infections and constipation. Make sure you have at least 8 glasses of water throughout the day.

Stay fit ‘n’ fine by choosing healthy foods. A balanced diet and optimum physical activity contribute to a better quality of life and relatively enhanced independence as you age.


1.Vijayaraghavan K, Brahmam GN, Balakrishna N, Arlappa N, Kumar S. National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau. Elderly Nutrition .National institute of Nutrition. Hyderabad. NNMB Technical Report .P 114 Report no: 20.

2.Chernoff R. Protein and older adults. Am Coll Nutr. 2004; 23(6 Suppl):627S-630S.

3.Lichtenstein AH, Rasmussen H, Yu WW, Epstein SR, Russell RM. Modified mypyramid for Older Adults. Nutr. 2008; 138(1):5-11.

4.Bossingham MJ, Carnell NS, Campbell WW. Water balance, hydration status, and fat-free mass hydration in younger and older adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005; 81(6):1342-50.