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Nutrition for Seniors


Nutrients That Increase in Importance With Age

The following nutrients are important to overall health for seniors. Getting the recommended daily intake helps with everything from building muscle to proper digestion.

Protein

Recommended Intake: Men: 56 grams a day ; Women: 46 grams a day

You need protein because your body requires the individual amino acids that link together to form proteins in foods. Once you eat protein-containing foods, the proteins are separated into individual amino acids in your digestive system and are used to build, repair, and maintain your body's tissues (skin, muscles, internal organs).

Though they can be assembled in an almost infinite number of combinations, there are only 20 amino acids. Nine are essential, meaning they must come from your diet. Your body can manufacture the rest. Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids, such as fish, poultry, eggs, milk, and beef, are called "complete proteins."

All protein provides four calories per gram and can be used for energy by the body if carbohydrates and fat are in short supply, as they are in some types of weight-loss diets. Although the recommended intake for protein doesn't increase with age, as you get older, your body becomes less and less efficient at processing the protein you take in, and your body is less able to hold onto protein stores.

For seniors who are physically active, that goes double, since protein is needed to maintain muscle mass. To compensate, some experts believe folks over 50 should get more protein in their diet. But don't opt for protein shakes, powders, and bars.

If you suffer from liver or kidney disease, you could be doing more harm than good since too much protein can stress your organs. You can get all the protein you need by making wise dietary choices.

Fluids

While you may not think of it this way, water is a vital nutrient. You may be able to survive for weeks without food, but the body can last only a few days without water.

It has a ubiquitous presence in the body and is involved in virtually every metabolic process: the digestion of food, the absorption of nutrients, the circulation of the blood, the maintenance of proper body temperature, the cushioning of joints and organs, and the elimination of toxic metabolic byproducts from the body.

When your body loses too much water through perspiration, vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive urination, or when you simply do not consume enough water, you become dehydrated. And dehydration is the most frequent reason people over the age of 65 are hospitalized.

Half of the water in your body is lost from your lungs when you breathe (that's why your breath is moist) and from your skin through perspiration. Even if you don't feel like you're sweating, you are constantly losing some fluid through your skin.

Hot temperatures and high altitude further increase your need for fluid. Also, as you age, your kidneys are less able to hold onto water, leaving you more vulnerable to dehydration. A low fluid intake can contribute to constipation, and recent research has found a link between inadequate fluid intake and kidney stones and bladder cancer.

It's recommended that men drink about 13 cups of fluid a day and women drink about 9 cups. That may sound like a lot, but consider this: Fluids such as milk, juice, soft drinks, coffee, and tea -- which are made mostly of water -- count toward your daily recommended intake. Fruits and vegetables contain water, too.

In our next and final page in this article, find out which nutrients become less important as you age.