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Elderly in India: Meeting their nutritional needs

Good health and nutrition are important for everyone, irrespective of their age. However, the criticality of nutrition becomes more pronounced as one grows older. Ageing is known to bring about changes in the body such as loss of muscle mass, weak bones and reduced digestive capabilities. In a lot of cases, with advancing age, people experience loss of appetite and taste. The reduction in physical activities also reduces the daily calorie requirements of the body. It is therefore important to ensure that high-calorie foods are reduced. The focus must be on ensuring the intake of diets rich in nutrients instead.

Unhealthy food habits among the elderly can lead to obesity and increase in weight, making them vulnerable to various chronic lifestyle and age-related diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, increased cholesterol levels and osteoporosis. In many cases, they develop sensitivity to certain foods like onions, spices and dairy products.

Various studies have revealed that over half of India’s senior-citizens (60+ years old) are victims of malnutrition and 9 out of 10 receive less than the recommended nutritional intake. The following are a few key dietary essentials for the elderly:

Calcium and vitamins

The elderly need an enhanced intake of calcium and vitamin D to maintain their bone health. Foods rich in calcium such as cereals, fruit juices, green vegetables, milk and fish, etc. are ideal sources for these two nutrients. Vegetarians should take supplements that contain Vitamin D. It is very difficult for them to receive the desired quantity of Vitamin B12. This deficiency can be met by consuming lean meat, fortified cereal, fish and seafood. However, it is a must to consult a dietary expert or a registered medical practitioner before taking supplements.

Potassium and fibre

The intake of potassium along with a reduction in consumption of sodium chloride (common salt) can be effective in bringing down blood pressure. Similarly, fibrous foods help in the prevention of Type 2 diabetes and heart diseases. Fruits, vegetables and beans are known sources of potassium and fibre needs can be met by consuming whole-grain bread, cereals, beans and peas, etc., along with fruits and vegetables.

Consumption of a healthy and balanced diet will also help tackle indigestion, diabetes, dehydration, constipation and various other such ailments among the elderly. They must also eat less salty, spicy and fried food and ensure that they drink an adequate amount of water.

Apart from their diet, some other tips that the elderly must follow to stay healthy include regular exercise; avoiding alcohol, tobacco or smoking; undertaking regular health check-ups and monitoring of sugar and blood-pressure; consumption of prescribed medicines; keeping stress at bay by doing yoga and meditation.

In conclusion

The population of the elderly is rising rapidly in India. According to the World Health Organization, the rise in the elderly population will create challenges for the healthcare sector in India. As per its records, India had about 7.7% elderly people in 2001, and the number is now estimated to be over 10% of the total population. The need of the hour is to understand their changing dietary needs with age and create awareness on maintaining adequate nutrition and fitness levels. As the Hon'ble Prime Minister recently mentioned, a stronger and healthier India is the key to global success, and our senior citizens need to become role models. This can only happen when their overall needs are met and they stay healthy.

This article has been authored by Dr. Vishal Sehgal, Medical Director, Portea Medical


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