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Published January 19, 2014, 11:30 PM

Complications of aging can make it challenging for older adults to meet their nutritional needs

FARGO – Georgia Grinaker used to live on a farm and would often prepare meals for a number of people. But now that it’s just her and her husband, Grinaker says cooking is more of a challenge.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

FARGO – Georgia Grinaker used to live on a farm and would often prepare meals for a number of people.

But now that it’s just her and her husband, Grinaker says cooking is more of a challenge.

“It’s harder to cook for two than it is for 10,” she said.

Providing balanced meals for only two people means there are a lot more leftovers in the refrigerator, and the 85-year-old Fargo woman says she and her 95-year-old husband, Gordon, get tired of eating the same thing over and over again.

Beyond that, their dietary needs have changed. And the physical hurdles that can come with aging can make it difficult for older adults to meet their nutritional requirements.

While older adults’ nutritional needs remain the same or increase with age, they need fewer calories because their metabolisms and physical activity slow down, Alice H. Lichtenstein, senior scientist and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, said in a news release.

Because of that, older adults need to make the most of the calories they consume, so they should eat foods that have high levels of vitamins and minerals per serving with very limited trans and saturated fats, salt, and added sugars, Lichtenstein said.

Nutrition Scientists at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging came up with MyPlate for Older Adults, based on the federal government’s MyPlate nutrition guidelines.

My Plate for Older Adults emphasizes bright-colored vegetables like carrots and broccoli and deep-colored fruit like berries and peaches as well as whole grains, low- and non-fat dairy and proteins like dry beans, nuts, fish, poultry, lean meat and eggs.

Older adults tend to have decreased kidney function, they may not feel thirsty, and they’re more prone to constipation because their digestive tracts don’t work as effectively, so it’s critical they drink enough water, the University of Rochester Medical Center states.

Constipation may prevent older adults from eating because they feel full, but then they won’t get the nutrition they need. Overuse of laxatives will interfere with the digestion and absorption of nutrients, Colorado State University Extension states.

Fiber helps prevent constipation, but dental problems stop many older adult from eating as much fiber as they need, the University of Rochester Medical Center states on its website.

WebMD suggests cooked, canned, or frozen vegetables as easy-to-chew options and fruit cut into salads or blended into smoothies.

Another issue facings older adults is they often don’t get enough calcium or vitamin D, which can lead to bone loss and osteoporosis, the University of Rochester Medical Center states, adding that supplements may be needed if they cannot get enough of these nutrients from food.

Depending on their activity level, women over 50 should eat between 1,600 and 2,200 calories a day and men over 50 should eat between 2,200 and 2,800 calories, according to the medical center.

Research shows that many problems associated with aging can be slowed with proper nutrition, the medical center states, but older adults may have trouble preparing meals or may simply not feel like eating.

Prescription medications can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, loss of appetite, and can even make it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients from food, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

People with diminished vision might be afraid to cook or might not be able to read nutrition labels and recipes. Those with hearing loss may eat out less often. And changes in smell and taste may make food lest appealing, Colorado State University Extension states.

But because older adults should be using less salt due to blood pressure concerns, WebMD suggests flavoring food with herbs, pepper, spices, vinegars, mustards, lemon juice, or garlic.

Lichtenstein says older adults should talk with their doctors about their diets and any changes that may be needed.

To make sure she and her husband eat more balanced meals, Grinaker says they eat at one of Valley Senior Services (formerly Fargo Senior Services) community dining programs most days.

“We can get more of a variety of meals that way,” she said. “It’s refreshing to get something different.”

There are locations throughout Cass, Steele, Traill, Ransom, Sargent and Richland counties that provide community meals prepared by licensed registered dieticians through Valley Senior Services. For a list of locations and menus, visit valleyseniorservices.org.

The organization provided 182,000 meals between its Meals-on-Wheels and community dining programs in 2013 and the need for services is growing.

Last year, Fargo and West Fargo saw a 10 percent increase in demand for home delivered meals through Meals-on-Wheels, which provides one hot, nutritious meal per day for those aged 60 and older who are home-bound and unable to prepare their own meals.

Brian Arett, Valley Senior Services executive director, says that’s a “very significant” increase brought on by a growth in the number of seniors, especially those 85 and older, and an influx of seniors moving to the community from the western part of the state where rising housing costs are forcing seniors to move.

“We really focus on providing highly nutritious foods,” Arett said. “That’s so important for anybody, but particularly for older people to get meals that are nutrient-dense because they don’t have the ability to eat as much food. They just don’t burn as many calories, so the calories that go in, it’s really important to make them really nutritious. That goes a long way toward helping them to be in better health. Good food leads to better health and that’s the whole philosophy behind our program.”

Valley Senior Services doesn’t charge a fee for the meals, but has a suggested donation of $3.50. Arett said people are welcome to donate what they can. Reservations should be made a day in advance.

The North Dakota State University Extension Service has also created a program called Nourishing Boomers and Beyond to provide North Dakotans ages 50 and older with information and strategies to eat more nutritiously and be more physically active so they can reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases.

Information on a variety of topics from the brain, bones, and digestive system to finding the truth in health and nutrition claims is available at www.ndsu.edu/boomers. Extension agents will hold monthly classes in many rural counties. And boomers can sign up for a free electronic newsletter online.

“We’re trying to provide materials that will help people as we move through life,” Julie Garden-Robinson, Extension food and nutrition specialist and project director, said of the program that kicked off this month.


• www.ndsu.edu/boomers

• http://valleyseniorservices.org

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526