What nutrients does the body need in old age

Older people often have a lack of appetite. The body needs certain nutrients, especially in old age. Experts say what is important.


the essentials in brief

  • Eating healthy in old age does not look much different than in younger people.
  • But: Older people need less food, but more micronutrients.
  • You should also pay special attention to protein to provide the muscles with sufficient nutrients.

Vegetables and fruit, more fish than meat, plus nuts: Experts advise older people to eat a balanced Mediterranean diet. Cooking here is mainly done with olive oil.

Healthy eating habits in old age therefore do not look much different than in younger people. With one crucial difference:

“If older people move less, i.e. use less energy, then they need fewer calories, but still the same amount of micronutrients,” says Professor Rainer Wirth, specialist in internal medicine, geriatrics and nutritional medicine.

Then the following applies: “He must eat less in terms of quantity, but the food must actually be of higher quality in terms of the density of the micronutrients, because the need has not changed there.”

It is not possible to say in general terms when the calorie requirement will decrease. “It depends more on physical activity than actual age.”

Because: There are eighty-year-olds who are highly active and do sports. “Others are already very comfortable at seventy or are chronically ill, so they can no longer move as much,” says Wirth.

Weight loss can be difficult

Seniors who are bedridden for longer periods of illness can lose a significant amount of weight. It’s difficult because they don’t put the pounds back on as quickly as younger people.

When the next phase of the disease comes, a few kilos are lost again. Ten to fifteen kilograms of body weight can disappear within several years. “It is never just a loss of fat mass, but also of muscle,” explains Wirth.

A vicious cycle often begins: as the muscles shrink due to age, muscle loss increases significantly due to malnutrition. This in turn worsens the mobility of the elderly.

If there is a lack of energy and protein supply, the immune system often suffers and wound healing deteriorates.

Promotes muscle building

As you age, you need more exercise and protein intake to build muscle. Older people especially need protein to build muscle.

Protein suppliers are animal foods such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, but also legumes. The calcium found in dairy products is also important for bones.

If there is a lack of protein in the diet or if the elderly have lost weight, Wirth recommends special foods, such as what is known as protein bread. Protein yogurts or cottage cheeses are also available in the supermarket.

promote appetite

What is important is the desire to eat. The problem with old people is often the lack of appetite. “If one finds something that suits his preferences, he eats more,” says Wirth. Eating in company can also increase calorie intake.

But dentures can make it difficult to enjoy, as can chewing or swallowing problems. Nevertheless, seniors should not and do not have to do without fruit, vegetables and whole grain products, says ecotrophologist Theresa Stachelscheid.

Vegetables can be steamed, filled with sauce and made into a creamy vegetable soup with a hand blender, advises the nutritionist.

“For example, if you’ve always liked muesli for breakfast, you can now mix soft oats or melted flakes with a little yogurt or milk and pureed fruit,” she suggests.

Drink enough fluids

Older people often avoid drinking heavily to avoid having to go to the toilet on the go or at night. Adequate fluids are part of a healthy diet.

“In the morning, have the recommended amount ready to drink for the day, for example two 0.75 liter bottles,” advises Stachelscheid.

Water is the first choice. And it’s easy to liven it up: “For example, add lemon or cucumber wedges to the water or fresh herbs such as mint or lemon balm,” says Stachelscheid. Unsweetened herbal or fruit teas and juice spritzers offer variety.

More on the subject:

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