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What are the nutritional needs of older persons?

Verified By Apollo General Physician September 9, 2020 11516 0
Nutritional needs
Nutritional needs

Is the dietary requirement of a young man who is 25 years of age similar to a man who is 60 years or more? Are older people more susceptible to malnutrition? Do your dietary requirements change as you age?

To understand the nutritional needs of older people, it is essential to analyze the questions mentioned above. Older people are more susceptible to malnutrition in particular. There are many practical problems involved in providing adequate nutrition to older persons. Since lean body mass and basal metabolic rate both decrease with age, an older person’s energy requirement per kilogram of body weight is also reduced. While the nutritional needs of older adults are generally similar to those of the younger age groups, their diet requires a special provision of certain nutrients.

Epidemiology of aging population in the world

The population of older people who are more than 50 years of age is gradually increasing. According to a report by WHO, in 2002, the world had an estimated 605 million older people, of whom about 400 million lived in low-income countries. By 2025, the number of older people is projected to reach more than 1.2 billion worldwide, with about 840 million in low-income countries. Thus, a range of physical, social, financial, and cultural factors affects older people’s nutritional status.

The importance of understanding the nutritional needs

As we get old, there is a decrease in the rate of metabolism in the body. One should always remember that if the energy (food) intake is below the older person’s energy needs, it can lead to a poor nutritional status. A well-balanced diet that is full of essential nutrients can help support a healthy life.

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What are the nutritional needs of older persons?

How can an older person keep his/her bones strong, heart-healthy, and weight steady? Here we discuss some nutrients essential for every older person.

Calcium and Vitamin D

The need for calcium and vitamin D increases with an increase in age. Older people need them to keep their bones healthy. Physical exercise is vital for the proper functioning of the skeletal structure. Along with exercise, sufficient dietary calcium intake in all elderly people can be of great help to maintain strong bones.

Sources of calcium and vitamin D: The reliable sources of calcium are fresh cereals and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, soft-bone  fish, and dairy . Some of the major sources of Vitamin D include fatty fish, like eggs, salmon, milk, and cheese

Vitamin B12

It is important to remember that the serum levels of B12 decrease with an increase in age. The conditions of low serum B12 are associated with malabsorption caused by gastric atrophy.

Sources of Vitamin B12: These include, lean meat, poultry , milk and milk products  and seafood. Some adults over 50 years of age may not be able to take up enough vitamin B12. You should always take a vitamin B12 supplement after consulting a doctor or certified nutritionist.

Dietary fiber

Dietary fiber is useful in lowering the risk of cardiac disease in older people. The risk of Type II diabetes is also reduced. Maintaining an adequate intake of dietary fiber, particularly the bulk-forming cereal fiber, is essential for an older person. Dietary fiber is also necessary to prevent constipation. The lack of dietary fiber can lead to the development of cancer of the large intestine.

Fiber intake should be increased gradually as a sudden shift from a low to high fiber diet may cause diarrhea, cramps, flatulence, and/or constipation.

Sources of dietary fiber: Some major sources of dietary fiber include whole-wheat grain, flours and cereals, beans, and peas along with fruits and vegetables.


Adequate potassium consumption and a limited intake of sodium (salt) can minimize the risk of hypertension in older adults.

Sources of potassium: The healthy sources of potassium include fruits, nuts, beans, spinach , mushrooms , broccoli etc


The Recommended Dietary Allowance of Iron is 9mg/day. Iron is an essential nutrient in the diet for humans of all age groups.

*The sufficient iron absorption depends upon an adequate intake of Vitamin C.

Sources of iron: Animal sources such as mutton, poultry and fish, and beans are good sources of iron. Apart from them, dried fruits like dates , spinach and green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals also provide adequate iron.


Older people should eat fats that are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Foods with less concentration of saturated and Trans fat help reduce the risk of getting cardiac disease.

Sources of fats: The major sources of edible fats are predominantly found in seeds, avocados,

vegetable oils, nuts, and fish.


Older people, especially those of very old age or at an advanced stage of a disease, are particularly at risk of dehydration due to a decreased ability to feel thirst. It is necessary to get an adequate intake of fluid.

It needs a minimum consumption of six to eight glasses  of water / fluid per day. If the elderly person increases their intake of fiber, they must increase their intake of water.


The deficiency of protein in older people results in loss of muscle. It also causes osteoporosis. The intake of dietary protein promotes muscle protein synthesis, which increases the mass of lean muscle, strength, and function. The dietary protein intake increases the femoral neck bone mineral density. It also reduces the risk of fracture and improves the concentration of calcium in the body.

According to the Food and Nutrition Board, the recommended daily protein intake for the elderly is 0.8g/kg/day. The requirement for protein increases when the elderly undergo admission in the hospital, particularly for  major surgery . During this period, the intake of proteins should be 10 to 35% of the daily intake of energy.

Major sources of protein: The primary protein sources are fish , poultry, soya chunks, pulses, legumes , eggs and milk products. Proteins obtained from the sources mentioned above help in the formation of essential amino acids, promoting the synthesis of muscle proteins compared to vegetables.

Folic acid

Older people should have food items that are rich in Folic acid. It is essential for the synthesis of DNA and the metabolism of amino acids.

Sources of folic acid: Fresh green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, peas, dairy products, eggs, seafood, poultry, meat, and fortified foods like bread, cereal, and pasta.

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How do the nutritional needs differ between women and men of the older generation?

Women who are between 50-70 years of age:

  • They should increase dairy intake
  • Diet should have enough calcium as there is increased bone loss due to menopause and a decline in estrogen level.
  • Women should have adequate iron and protein intake
  • Whole wheat bread, brown rice, millets and oats are desired nutritional foods for older women.
  • Drink plenty of water and eat fibrous vegetables and fruits to maintain healthy bowel movement.

Men who are between 50-70 years of age:

  • They should take care of eating less oily foods to maintain the health of their heart.
  • They should also include foods rich in calcium, vitamin D, Protein, and iron in their diet.
  • Healthy fats found in olive oil, nuts, and avocado should be included in the diet.
  • Drink plenty of water and eat fibrous vegetables and fruits to maintain healthy bowel movement.


Elderly persons require carefully planned diets. The common types are sugar-free and weight-balancing diets. The dietary changes of older people should be simple and minimum. A dietician may be able to modify a food plan for older people.

A healthy and balanced diet, physical exercise, and a positive attitude with proper care help make the lives of older people better and enjoyable. Elderly people should keep themselves updated about their health and BMI by contacting a physician or going to the hospital for regular health checks .

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