Nutritional Strategies for Staying Healthy as We Age

By Barbara Day, M.S., R.D., C.N.

As we age, there are a number of physiological changes that occur. Calorie needs may be decreased depending on one’s activity, so eating less calories may be warranted or you may end up gaining weight.  Specific issues like constipation and dehydration can also impact our health as well. Here are a few specific nutrients that should receive careful consideration as we age are: calories, dietary fiber, and fluids.

The Specifics – Calories:

       To help manage our weight as we age, knowing how many calories you need per day is helpful. Reading food labels can help you determine how many calories you are eating per day. Don’t forget there are also calories in beverages that you drink as well.

Caloric Levels for Women and Men Over 50

Activity Level Women over 50 Men over 50
Low – activities with typical day-to-day life 1,600 calories/day 2,000-2,200 calories/day
Moderately active – walks 1.5 to 3 miles/day at 3-4 miles per hour 1,800 calories/day 2,200 – 2,400 calories/day
Active – walk more than 3 miles per day at 3 – 4 miles per day 2,000 – 2,200 calories/day 2,400 – 2,800 calories/day

The Specifics – Dietary Fiber:

Dietary fiber should be emphasized because constipation is often a major concern as we age. Men over 50 should eat at least 30 grams of dietary fiber per day and women over 50 should eat at least 21 grams of dietary fiber per day. There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Good sources of soluble fiber – oats, oat bran, barley, legumes (e.g. dried beans, lentils, & split peas), flaxseed, apples, pears and citrus fruit. Soluble fiber helps to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber promotes regularity, adds bulk and softness to stools and helps with weight regulation. Good sources: wheat bran, whole wheat and other whole grain cereals like Wheaties, Shredded Wheat, Bran Flakes, nuts and vegetables.  Dietary fiber can help decrease the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

The Specifics – Fluids:

Chronic dehydration in the elderly may be associated with a decline in physical function and also a decline in their cognitive status and can account for frequent emergency room visits and hospital stays. Dehydration can be due to a reduced thirst sensation which occurs as we get older. Some drugs, like SSRI’s, ACE Inhibitors and also anti-Parkinson drugs, that seniors routinely take may also suppress their thirst.

Some of the signs and symptoms of dehydration can be identical to senile dementia symptoms, age dementia symptoms and Alzheimer’s symptoms. Correcting dehydration can allow the senior to return to a full and normal life. But, not correcting the dehydration may actually result in hospitalization of the senior.

The Institute of Medicine advises men to consume about 104 ounces of fluids  per day and women should consume about 72 ounces of fluids per day. Another way to determine hydration is the color of one’s urine. Urine color for the first void of the day is typically yellow but as the day goes on urine color should be pale (slightly yellow) to colorless. If not, more fluids need to be ingested. Here’s a Urine Color Chart that you might find useful,

Your Plateful of Food

The type of food we eat is critical to keeping us healthy. Since our calorie needs may go down if our activity goes down, making wise food choices can help keep you out of your doctor’s office.  For example, eating whole grain  foods like 100% whole wheat bread instead of white bread or eating old fashioned or steel cut oatmeal instead of eating cornflakes would provide more nutrients and dietary  fiber.   Eating more brightly colored fruits and vegetables will also provide more nutrients, dietary fiber and fluids, as well. If you have a chewing problem, you can drink your fruits and vegetables by making fruit and vegetable smoothies.

Barbara Day, M.S., R.D., C.N., is a registered dietitian with a Master’s Degree in clinical nutrition.  The former publisher of Kentuckiana HealthFitness Magazine, Kentuckiana Healthy Woman magazine and radio show host of Health News You Can Use, Barbara has over 30 years of experience in promoting healthy lifestyles to consumers.  Barbara worked as Nutrition Consultant to the Navy SEALs (8 years) and the University of Louisville Athletic Department (10 years). Barbara has private practice, DayByDay Nutrition,, where she counsels clients on weight loss, cholesterol management, performance nutrition and an array of other medical issues.  Visit Barbara’s new website which is an on-line health & wellness magazine, Barbara writes nutrition and health columns for as well as a weekly nutrition column for the Southeast Outlook. She also designs and presents employee wellness programs to small and large businesses. Barbara is a runner, cyclist, hiker and a mother and grandmother to 12 grandchildren.    


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