Undernutrition and Overnutrition: How To Prevent and Treat Through Diet

Undernutrition is a serious problem for some elderly people. As we age, the decrease in sensation of taste and smell can make foods less appealing. With age, our caloric needs also decrease, so it is important to get the most out of foods by choosing foods with higher nutritional value. Oral health may also diminish. Ill-fitting dentures, poor dentition and periodontal disease all make chewing difficult, so oral health should be prioritized.

Vitamins We Need and Where to Find Them!

Deficiencies in Vitamin B12, B6, folic acid, and Vitamin C are all common in older adults. Vitamin B12, folic acid and iron deficiencies could result in an anemia. Vitamin B12 with folic acid is needed for the maturation of red blood cells and the synthesis of DNA. It is also needed for normal nerve function. The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for Vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg (micrograms) per day. Vitamin B12 is found in liver, kidney, meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, oysters, fortified cereals and nutritional yeast. One cup of milk contains .9 mcg, while 3/4 cup of 100% fortified cereal has 6 mcg.

The body uses Vitamin C for healing wounds and building immunity. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, cabbage, cauliflower, melons, strawberries and dark green vegetables. The RDA for Vitamin C is 60 mg per day. One medium-sized orange provides approximately 72 mg. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that the body excretes any excess in the urine. Folic acid is also a B vitamin, and aids the body in prevention of heart disease. The average adult needs 400 mcg per day of folic acid, which can be obtained from foods like orange juice, leafy greens, fortified cereals, grains, pastas and dried beans. The best way to get the needed amount is by eating 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables daily.

Vitamin D is another essential vitamin. It promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphate for healthy bones and teeth. Elderly people require 600–800 IU (international units) per day. While some of that can be obtained through sun exposure, the weather and sunscreens both affect UV ray exposure. Therefore, it is important to consume extra Vitamin D from fortified foods and/or supplements in conjunction with adequate calcium to promote good bone health. Fortified foods like milk (98 IU per 8 ounces), margarine (60 IU per 1 Tbsp), and foods made with milk all contain Vitamin D. It can also be found naturally in cooked salmon (360 IU per 3.5 ounces), whole eggs (25 IU per yolk) and cod liver oil (1360 IU per 1 Tbsp).

Can't I Eat As Much As I Want As Long As It Is Healthy?

Overnutrition is a form of malnutrition that quite simply translates to overeating. As we get older, our mean energy needs decrease. Our activity level usually decreases as well. Together, these two factors often lead to weight gain. Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, dyslipidemia (high cholesterol or triglycerides), gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea or respiratory problems, and some cancers (endometrial, colon and breast) can all be attributed to being overweight or obese. The safest way to lose weight is to aim for slow, steady weight loss by decreasing calorie intake while consuming an adequate amount of nutrients and increasing physical activity. People with chronic disease should consult their physician to ensure appropriate management of other health conditions. Beware of fad diets, which usually require cutting out important nutrients or implementing severe caloric restriction.

How Do I Know What a Portion Size Is?

It is always important to pay attention to food labels and be aware of what a portion size is. The USDA food guide pyramid is the best model to follow when it comes to a balanced diet. Here I have outlined the principal guidelines to remember. You should consume most of your calories from grains, breads and cereals. Choose whole grain options; the more fiber the better—an optimal amount is 5g per serving. Limit milk and milk products to three servings per day and consume only nonfat or low-fat options. Fruits and vegetables are an essential part of a balanced diet. Choosing a variety of colors means more vitamins and minerals. A small to medium-sized piece of fruit is considered one serving. Fruit consumption should be 2 cups per day, and vegetables 2 ½ cups per day. The USDA recommends 5–6 ounces per day of meat or meat substitutes. An easy way to remember a portion size for this category is to think of a deck of cards: that size equals about three ounces. Nuts, beans and tofu also count for this group. About ½ ounce of nuts, ¼ to ½ cup of beans and 1 cup of tofu is considered one serving. Fats and oils should be used sparingly; trans fats and saturated fats should be avoided as much as possible.

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