Nutritional risks in old age - Nutrition

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Nutrition and old age

Normal dietary needs in old age What the official sources say Nutritional risks in old age
  • Normal food needs in old age
  • What the official sources say
  • Nutritional risks in old age
    • Malnutrition
    • Difficult digestion
    • Constipation and swelling
    • Obesity

Nutritional risks in old age

The most serious nutritional risk, and which is more frequently encountered in old age, is malnutrition due to insufficient food intake.

Obesity is also a relevant and constantly growing problem among the elderly, as well as among young people. However, with increasing age the indication for weight loss must be placed with caution and, when necessary, the weight loss must be slow and obtained with nutritional programs that do not cause deficiencies.

In all cases, it is a good habit to periodically check the weight (for example at each change of season) and write it down.

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Malnutrition

The risk of malnutrition increases with aging for numerous reasons including the reduction of interest and pleasure in eating, the difficulties associated with chewing and swallowing, the fatigue due to the supply of food and its preparation; these mechanisms lead to a reduced overall food intake with the risk of nutritional deficiencies up to serious malnutrition, the most evident consequence of which is the unwanted weight loss.

In these skinny elderly and / or those who lose weight easily it is particularly important to guarantee protein-rich foods (milk or yogurt for breakfast; a portion of meat, fish or poultry for a main meal; a portion of cheese, eggs, legumes, cold cuts at the other meal), accompanied by an adequate amount of calories provided by bread, pasta, rice, polenta and fats.

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Difficult digestion

The elderly, and even more the malnourished ones, often complain of digestive difficulties.

Digesting means breaking large molecules into small molecules, which can thus pass from the intestine to the blood. It is a complex process, which takes place partly in the mouth, partly in the stomach and then in the intestine, and which requires the action of bile produced by the liver and the intervention of enzymes contained in saliva, in gastric juices, in pancreatic and intestinal ones. Difficult digestion is a disorder that must be defined and whose causes and repercussions on food intake must be understood in order to propose gastronomic solutions that allow a varied and sufficient diet to guarantee caloric and protein needs. In fact, not all digest the same foods well, for example there are elderly people who have difficulties with boiled meat but not with Milanese cutlet while others complain about the opposite. In the first case the problem concerns meat proteins, in fact the fried cutlet is digested because cooking is faster. In the second case, on the other hand, the difficulty concerns fats and can therefore be solved by choosing cooking methods that do not have them or that require modest quantities. This does not only apply to meat: for example, biscuits that contain cooked fats can be replaced with bread, butter and sugar.

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Constipation and swelling

Constipation and a sense of swelling are another common problem in the elderly and depend in part on reduced intestinal motility and weakening of the abdominal and pelvic muscles.

It is often recommended to increase fiber consumption; there are different types, with different mechanisms of action. As for cooked vegetables, which the elderly often resort to, it must be said that boiled zucchini and carrots can improve constipation without causing swelling, while other vegetables, while increasing the fecal mass, do not get the same results.

There are also numerous bakery products containing fiber, which must be gradually introduced into the diet to allow the body to get used and thus avoid disturbances due to the possible development of gas.

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Obesity

Weight gain and the development of obesity in the elderly are frequent and due to the reduction of the daily need for calories not accompanied by a lower dietary intake. Weight increases considered sometimes negligible (1 or 2 kg per year) after 10-15 years translate into obesity.

Obesity in the elderly increases cardiac and joint loads, requires greater respiratory and metabolic work and is accompanied by functional limitations with reduced autonomy in dressing, personal hygiene, use of public transport and so on.

To reverse or stop the trend towards weight gain, some habits need to be changed promptly. Over the years, in fact, losing weight becomes more difficult and more risky: more difficult because reducing energy expenditure, the margin to act on nutrition is smaller, and more risky because a low-calorie diet in old age exposes you to risk nutritional deficiencies and loss of muscle mass, difficult to recover.

The main strategies are to practice more physical activity and to reduce the portions, especially with regard to unnecessary high calorie foods (such as sweets, sugar and alcohol). Where possible, low-fat foods should be preferred, such as partially skimmed milk, low-fat white yogurt, fresh bread, lean cold cuts (bresaola, fat-free ham), meats deprived of visible fat and poultry from which the skin, avoiding fat-rich baked goods (biscuits, focaccias, wraps, crackers, breadsticks, sliced ​​pizza and so on), ready meals based on fried batters or seasoned with various sauces, fatty meats (for example ribs ) and fatty meats (salami, coppa, pancetta, mortadella, frankfurters).

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