Nutrition for Older Adults

by J. Pentz on Sep 01, 2000

nutrition older adults for What nutrients do older adults need to maximize their health and wellness? By Jane Pentz, PhD E ach year the number of men and women who reach their 100th birthday grows worldwide. Advances in medicine, education and lifestyle continue to help humans enjoy longer and healthier lives. While scientific breakthroughs have greatly benefitted man collectively, individual habits remain vital to everyday wellness. In fact, the evidence is undisputed: Diet and nutrition are directly linked to many of the chronic diseases afflicting today's older adults. If one is to "age successfully"--that is, to live at an optimal level of health--then good eating in conjunction with good exercise is a must. This article will explore nutrition for aging adults. Specifically, it will address the needs of individuals ages 50 to 70 years and the additional needs of people 70-plus years. The information presented here addresses the "average" person in these age groups; because variability among individuals becomes greater as they age, the nutritional challenges faced by these groups can be as diversified as they are. Note: For personal trainers, this article serves as an informational source. When working with clients, trainers must consider their professional scope of practice and refer individuals to nutrition experts when appropriate. Ages 50 to 70 Years People between the ages of 50 and 70 face the battle of weight gain, an increased risk of chronic diseases and, for the most part, the same lifestyle- and workrelated stresses that younger people feel. The single most important nutrition factor for this age group is getting enough servings of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense foods containing large amounts of micronutrients. Not only are they good sources of fiber with low caloric amounts, they contain antioxidants and phytochemicals. While all micronutrients--vitamins and minerals--are necessary for successful aging, several remain specific to the 50- to 70-year-old age group, including vitamin D, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and calcium. IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER SEPTEMBER 2000 nutrition older adults for Role of Antioxidants One of the theories about aging is that free radicals help cause the process (Roizen 1999). Most physiological chemical reactions take place to form new stable compounds, each of which includes an even number of electrons. However, weaker bonds can split unevenly, leading to compounds that have an odd, or an unpaired, electron, thus producing free radicals. Free radicals are highly unstable and quickly react with other compounds, forming more free radicals in a chain reaction. They can be induced by room-temperature air in the presence of light. During the body's normal metabolic reactions, free radicals are produced through a reduction in oxygen. They can attack the unsaturated fatty acids in cell membranes, causing lipid peroxidation, and can damage deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). An antioxidant is a substance that can "donate" an electron to a com- Recommendations Remain Cautious What is the "right" amount of antioxidant consumption for individuals ages 50 to 70? The answer, so far, remains highly debatable. The controversy over prescribing adequate but not excessive amounts continues. To the surprise of the public and many health organizations, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS 2000) has made only minor changes to the Recommended Dietary Allowances for vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium. NAS set no guidelines for carotenoids such as lutein, lycopene and beta-carotene, concluding that it was too early to determine whether antioxidants could help prevent major health threats like cancer, heart disease, diabetes or Alzheimer's disease. The evidence is promising but not conclusive. Why are experts so hesitant to set guidelines? While there is an explosion of compelling and consistent data associating diets rich in fruits and vegetables with a lower cancer risk, the data on using supplements is inconsistent. Moreover, considerable existing data suggests that large doses of supplements may lead to health problems rather than to benefits. NAS concluded that enough research was available to set Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL). These levels are the largest amounts of antioxidant supplements that healthy individuals can take daily without risking adverse health effects. When it comes to antioxidants, the major health groups, including the American Heart Association and the National Cancer Institute, are remaining prudent in their recommendations. pound, thereby rendering free radicals harmless. When donating their electrons, though, these antioxidants can become oxidized themselves. Consuming adequate amounts of antioxidants prevents cellular damage due to oxidation; consuming them in amounts larger than physiologically needed can produce oxidants with the same cellular damaging effects of oxygen radicals. There are three types of antioxidants: 1. Food-based vitamin antioxidants include vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E. 2. Phytochemicals, also found in foods, have similar antioxidant properties to vitamins A, C and E. 3. Selenium, an intracellular antioxidant, is a mineral that functions like an antioxidant as part of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase. This enzyme prevents the formation of free radicals, thereby averting the chain reaction. As individuals age, intracellular production of glutathione peroxidase (intracellular organelle), catalase and other enzymes in the peroxisome decrease. Such a decrease makes it even more critical for older adults to obtain antioxidants from foods. For the 50- to 70-year-old age group, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin and mineral antioxidants are as follows:

IDEA Personal Trainer , Volume 2001, Issue 5

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About the Author

J. Pentz IDEA Author/Presenter