Alarmingly, recent research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has found that many seniors are not meeting some of the recommended dietary intakes for nutrients essential to good health.
Essential nutrients for seniors
According to consultant nutritionist Sue Radd, the ABS research findings are of great concern as we know nutrition can be an influential factor in many age related diseases such as cardiovascular disease and in the prevention of bone fractures.
The ABS research has revealed that the average person in the over 65s age group is not meeting their recommended dietary intake for calcium.
We often think of calcium as being essential for women as they age to help to prevent the onset of osteoporosis after menopause.
While this certainly is the case, men also suffer from osteoporosis — with 30 percent of men and 60 percent of women over the age of 60 years suffering from osteoporotic fracture — so it is essential both men and women consider ways to increase their calcium intake.
The ABS national nutrition survey also told us that, on average, women over 65 are not meeting their recommended dietary intakes for zinc.
Essential for the production of protein and assisting with repair of wounds, an inadequate zinc intake may mean cuts and sores heal quite slowly.
Zinc deficiency has also been linked with loss of taste which can often have a negative impact on appetite in seniors.
Another concern is that Americans in the over 65s group are not reaching their recommended intake for dietary fiber.
Fiber is essential in our daily diet to help prevent constipation and, unfortunately, reduced activity can lead to constipation in older people.
Research has shown a high intake of dietary fiber can assist with conditions such as diverticulosis, hemorrhoids (piles) and possibly reduce the risk of some cancers, although a recent large study in women has not confirmed this for bowel cancer.
Most of us are aware that dairy foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese, are good sources of calcium — but many people find it difficult to digest milk or just don’t consume enough.
Indeed, the national nutrition survey indicates that consumption of milk products and dishes decreases with age, with the lowest recorded consumption in the 65 and over age group.
A great way to increase intake is to choose calcium-rich foods on which you can easily snack. Sesame seeds, almonds, pistachio nuts, dried figs and apricots provide calcium. Nuts and seeds can be eaten whole, or they can be crushed or ground and added to other foods if chewing is a problem.
In addition, calcium-fortified soy drinks are a good source of calcium and contain other substances found in soy called phytoestrogens that scientists believe may help to prevent bone loss and fight other diseases such as cardiovascular disease and even certain types of cancer.
Although meat, fish and seafood are good sources of zinc, it is possible to obtain enough of this essential mineral by following a plant-based diet. Foods such as wholegrain breads and cereals, legumes such as baked beans, canned soy beans and lentils, along with whole or ground nuts and seeds are all sources of zinc.
Fiber is found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrain and wholemeal breads and cereals, grains, nuts and legumes. So, we can increase our fiber intake by eating more of these foods on a daily basis.
In response to the concerning ABS research findings, the Sanitarium Health Food Company has developed a suggested Cardiac Diet Meal Plan for the seniors.
This has been especially designed to meet the nutritional and physical needs of older people and may help older people to ensure they are getting a wide variety of foods with nutrients in the appropriate proportions for good health.
With a little effort to increase our intake of some essential nutrients and maintain a healthy balanced diet, we can look forward to enjoying many more healthy years in the new millennium.