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Nutritional Needs for an Aging Population

Eating well is important for good nutrition at any age, but it is even more necessary for older adults because nutritional needs change. Adequate nutrition is necessary for health, quality of life and vitality. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, many seniors do not eat as well as they should. This can lead to poor nutrition or malnutrition. Reducing calorie intake can also easily get mistaken as a disease or illness.

There are many reasons our bodies change as we get older, including perceptual, physiological and general age-related conditions. These changes influence the performance of each person’s body, which influences our eating, nutritional intake, and overall health.

Perceptual changes such as those related to hearing, smell, and taste can affect our nutritional well-being. Hearing loss affects our ability to maintain good nutrition. The inability to hold a conversation with family and friends limit one’s desire to eat. The loss of smell can have an impact on the types of meals one chooses to eat. This can lead to poor food choices. Diminished taste in food is another problem. This may cause people to eat fewer fruits and vegetables.

One reason nutritional needs change is due to physiological changes that occur later in life. A lower energy level and lessening activity level decreases the need for calories. Our bodies may experience a decrease in function such as kidney and nervous system function. Dental and gastrointestinal can also cause issues causing people to shy away from fruits and vegetables needed to maintain good health.



These factors alone may contribute to why 3.7 million seniors are malnourished. They may also shed light on the importance of educating caregivers and aging seniors on specific dietary needs.

Good nutrition plays a vital role in the quality of life in older persons. Therefore, focusing on good eating habits is crucial. People 50 or older should choose healthy meals every day. These are the current recommendations for good nutritional health.

  • Fruits — 1½ to 2 ½ cups
    What is the same as ½ cup of cut-up fruit? A 2-inch peach or ¼ cup of dried fruit.
  • Vegetables — 2 to 3½ cups
    What is the same as one cup of cut-up vegetables? Two cups of uncooked leafy vegetables.
  • Grains — 5 to 10 ounces
    What is the same as one ounce of grains? A small muffin, a slice of bread, a cup of flaked, ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice or whole-grain pasta usually equal one ounce of grains.
  • Protein foods — 5 to 7 ounces
    What is the same as one ounce of meat, fish or poultry? One egg, ¼ cup of cooked beans or tofu, ½ ounce of nuts or seeds or one tablespoon of peanut butter.
  • Dairy foods — 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk
    What is the same as one cup of milk? One cup of yogurt or 1½ to 2 ounces of cheese. One cup of cottage cheese is the same as ½ cup of milk.
  • Oils — 5 to 8 teaspoons
    What is the same as oil added during cooking? Foods such as olives, nuts, and avocado have a lot of oil in them.
  • Solid fats and added sugars — keep the amount small
    If you eat too many foods containing fats and sugars, you will not have enough calories for the nutritious foods you should be eating.

Ensuring adequate nutrition and proper intake of fats and nutrients will help keep older adults feeling more vital, and ultimately, more healthy.


These are guidelines for good health. Before making decisions regarding your diet, you may want to have your physician provide you with a referral to a dietitian. They can help you make decisions that are best suited for you. A healthy diet doesn’t mean giving up what you enjoy, just learning how to eat in moderation.