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Senior Citizen's Guide to Chicago

The Practical Caregiver: What's in the Fridge?

In this age of ever more effective medical treatment, there's still nothing that can contribute to senior health like good nutrition. Good nutrition can lessen the effects of conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, provide a boost in energy, and help seniors resist disease so that they can live independently as long as possible.

But eating well at 70 is not the same as eating well in middle age. As lifestyles change as people grow older, so do nutritional needs. Generally, seniors are more sedentary than younger people and so require fewer calories.  Physical changes also play a role. Seniors often do not drink enough water because their sense of thirst has diminished. They tend to prefer richly seasoned foods, compensating for a decline in the number of sweet and salty taste buds. And because they don't produce as much gastric acid as they once did, many seniors have a hard time absorbing vitamin B12 from foods.

Health and social issues also leave their mark on senior nutrition. For instance, because missing teeth and poorly fitting dentures make it hard to chew, older people may forgo fresh fruits and vegetables, which are important sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. And people living by themselves tend to eat less, shedding pounds that they can ill afford to lose.

For all these reasons, ensuring that your loved one is eating well can be challenging. Fortunately, there is a standard that you can use as a basis for planning sound nutritional meals. Researchers at Tufts University have created a special Food Guide Pyramid for Older Adults, a variant of the Food Pyramid designed by the Department of Agriculture. The revised pyramid is narrower than the traditional one because older individuals are less active and require less food to maintain the same weight. However, it includes higher levels of specific nutrients like antioxidants, vitamin D and calcium, and folic acid. It also stresses fiber.

Ensuring that your loved one actually benefits from an appropriately balanced diet will take some planning on your part. Here are a few tips:

An appetite for food and an appetite for living are related. Ensuring that your loved one gets the proper nourishment is one way of ensuring that they get the most out of life.

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