Do older people have special nutritional needs?

Very little is known about how the aging process affects the body’s ability to digest, absorb, and retain nutrients such as proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Thus, little is known about how the nutritional needs of older people differ from those of younger people.

One point that is generally not in doubt is that older people, for the most part, need fewer calories than younger people. This may be due, in particular, to a natural decrease in the level of metabolism in people of age. It can also be caused by decreased physical activity. If the total amount of food eaten decreases, then the intake of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals also decreases accordingly. If the incoming calories are too low, then the necessary nutrients may also be lacking.

Many other factors can affect the nutritional needs of older people and how well they can meet those needs, including how accessible older people are to the food they need. For example, some of the changes that come with age can cause intolerance to certain foods, and other age-related changes can affect older people’s ability to go to the grocery store or prepare food. 

As people age, problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes are more likely to develop, and this requires certain dietary changes. Digestive problems are becoming more common, some people may have trouble chewing and swallowing food.

Generally, the standard dietary recommendations for adults apply to older people as well. They are shown in the following table:

1. Restrict:

  • sweets
  • natural coffee and tea
  • fatty foods
  • alcohol
  • butter, margarine
  • salt

2. Eat a lot:

  • fruit
  • whole grain and cereal bread
  • vegetables

3. Drink plenty of fluids, especially water.

Who should take care of their diet?

Young or old, everyone is interested in tasty and nutritious food. For starters, since food intake tends to decrease with age, older people should make sure that what they eat is nutritious and healthy. It’s best to leave less room in your diet for pastries and other “empty-calorie” industrial foods, cakes, and cookies, and do your best to limit your intake of soft drinks, candy, and alcohol.

A moderate exercise program, such as walking, may also be helpful. People who are physically active find it much easier to control their weight, even if they take in more calories, than those who are sedentary. The higher the calorie intake, the more likely a person is getting all the nutrients they need.

An easy way to evaluate your own diet is to keep a diary of everything you eat over a period of a few days to two weeks. Write down some details about how the food was prepared, and don’t forget to make a note of the portion sizes. Then compare the results to scientifically based general principles. Write down suggestions for improvement in the part of your diet that needs attention.

Should I be taking supplements?

With rare exceptions, vitamin and mineral supplements are rarely necessary for people who eat a wide variety of foods. It is best to get the nutrients you need from whole foods, without the use of supplements, unless otherwise directed by your dietitian or physician.

How can diet help me?

Digestive problems are the most common cause of discomfort in the elderly. Sometimes these problems cause people to avoid foods that could be good for them. For example, flatulence may prompt some people to avoid certain vegetables, such as cabbage or beans, which are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Let’s take a look at how a well-planned diet can help manage common complaints.


Constipation can be caused by a person not drinking enough fluids and eating low-fiber foods. Some medications, including antacids made from aluminum hydroxide or calcium carbonate, can also cause problems.

There are several things people can do to help prevent constipation. In particular, moderate portions of whole grain breads and cereals in the diet, as well as plenty of vegetables and fruits, can be helpful. Drinking dried fruits like prunes or figs and prune juice can also help as they have a natural laxative effect on many people. Drinking plenty of water is very important and water is the best choice. 

Most people should drink six to eight glasses of water or other liquids every day. High-fat foods such as sweets, meats, butter and margarine, and fried foods should be kept to a minimum. These foods are very high in calories and can crowd out foods that could provide needed fiber in the diet. Do not forget also that regular exercise is essential to maintain muscle tone and prevent constipation.

Gas and heartburn

Many people experience abdominal discomfort after eating, belching, bloating or burning. These complaints can be caused by a variety of things, including overeating, eating too much fat, drinking alcohol or carbonated drinks, and certain medications such as aspirin. Switching to a high-fiber diet can also cause flatulence in the beginning, although the body usually adjusts quickly to the increased fiber intake.

To help alleviate such problems, you can eat small meals, several times a day. Avoiding fatty foods, alcohol and carbonated drinks will also be a good help. It is very helpful to eat slowly, chew food thoroughly. If you suffer from heartburn, do not lie on your back after eating. Regular exercise can help minimize intestinal gas problems.

Problems with chewing and swallowing

They can occur for various reasons. For people who have difficulty chewing, the food needs to be crushed. They need extra time to chew their food at a comfortable, leisurely pace. Poorly fitting dentures should be checked by a dentist and possibly replaced.

Drinking plenty of fluids can help ease swallowing problems. If your throat or mouth is dry, which may be due to certain medications or age-related changes, lozenges or hard candies may help. They keep the mouth moist.

Summing up

A well-planned vegetarian diet is good for people of all ages. Age changes affect different people in different ways, a good diet can help overcome or reduce the symptoms of certain problems that can appear with age.


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