Healthy nutrition in old age: appetite, energy consumption, drinking

Gerne/Bonn. Vegetables and fruits, more fish than meat, plus nuts: experts advise the elderly to eat a balanced Mediterranean diet, which is prepared mainly with olive oil.

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So, a healthy diet in old age is not much different from that of young people. With one important difference: “If older people move less, i.e. consume less energy, they need fewer calories, but still as many micronutrients,” says Professor Rainer Wirth, president of the German Geriatrics Society (DGG).

In concrete terms, that means, “He has to eat less in terms of quantity, but the food has to actually be better in terms of micronutrient density, because the need there hasn’t changed,” explains Wirth, who is also director of the Geriatric Medicine and Early Rehabilitation Clinic. at Marienhospital Herne.

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A case of activity

It is impossible to say in general terms when the need for calories will decrease. “It has more to do with physical activity than actual age,” Wirth says.

The differences are huge in some cases. “There are people who are very active and exercise well into their eighties, and others who are very lazy in their seventies or are chronically ill and can no longer move as much,” says Wirth, deputy spokesperson for the DGG’s Nutrition Task Force. and metabolism.

Pay attention to the power supply

Elderly people who are bedridden for a long period of illness can lose a lot of weight. It’s difficult because they don’t put on the pounds as quickly as younger people. “If an eighty-year-old guy is in the hospital with a fractured femur and loses five pounds, he won’t be able to regain it in a month,” Wirth warns.

When the next phase of the disease comes, several kilograms are lost again. Ten to fifteen kilograms of weight can disappear in a few years. “It’s not just fat loss, it’s muscle loss,” explains Wirth.

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Then a vicious circle often begins: if the muscles recede due to age, the loss of muscles is again greatly increased due to malnutrition. This, in turn, impairs the mobility of the elderly. If there is a lack of energy and protein, the immune system often suffers and wound healing is impaired.

Promote muscle building

Elderly people especially need protein for muscle building. Then the need for protein still increases. “The stimulus for muscle formation changes with age,” says Wirth. To build muscle, you need more exercise and protein intake.

The main sources of protein are animal products such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, as well as legumes – they go well in salads or as a spread on bread. Calcium contained in dairy products is also important for bones. Therefore, dairy products and legumes should be included in the daily diet.

If there is not enough protein in the diet or if the elderly have lost weight, Professor Wirth recommends special products, for example, so-called protein bread. “It actually enters the body as an additional protein.” You can also buy protein yogurts or quarks in the supermarket. A balanced drinking diet, on the contrary, should be prescribed by a doctor.

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They stimulate the appetite and help with complaints

The desire to eat is important. Lack of appetite is often a problem for the elderly. In addition, there may be a prosthesis that makes it difficult to enjoy. “If a person gets something that matches their preferences, they eat more,” says Professor Wirth. Seniors should eat what they like and eat a varied diet. In addition, the following applies: “Eating in the company increases calorie consumption.” This also applies to eating in a pleasant, quiet atmosphere. Calorie counting is no longer popular, it can be fatter milk.

The elderly should not and should not go without fruits, vegetables and whole grains if they have difficulty chewing or swallowing, says Therese Stachelscheid of the German Nutrition Society (DGE). Vegetables can be steamed, poured with broth and made into cream soup with a hand blender, the nutritionist advises. “For example, if you always liked muesli for breakfast, now you can mix delicate oatmeal or melted cereal with yogurt or milk and fruit puree,” explains the ecotrophologist of the main nutrition department.

Be careful with ready meals

It is better to include vegetables and fruits in every meal. It can also be frozen products. If possible, try to eat unseasoned vegetables and unsweetened fruits.

Ready-made meals are easy to prepare, but usually not very nutritious. Instead, they often contain too much sugar, salt and unhealthy fat. But you can improve them with fresh vegetables.

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There are differences in the quality of delivered food. It is worth taking a closer look: in consumer centers, for example, they offer a checklist of menu services.

Drink enough fluids

Drinking is also part of the diet. An adult should consume about 1,300 milliliters a day, preferably 1,500. “That’s two-thirds of your fluid needs, one-third usually comes from food,” says Professor Wirth. Elderly people often avoid drinking heavily to avoid having to go to the bathroom on the go or at night. But these amounts are vital. You have to integrate them into your day. “In the morning, prepare the recommended amount of water for the day, for example, two 0.75-liter bottles,” advises the DGE specialist.

Rituals help: a drink is part of every meal. The cup should always be at hand and refilled again and again. “Post reminders around the house and bring something to drink when you leave,” she adds. Water is the first choice. It’s easy to spice it up: “For example, add slices of lemon or cucumber or fresh herbs like mint or lemon balm to the water,” says Stachelscheid. Unsweetened herbal or fruit teas and sprays – with a quarter of the juice content – ​​provide variety.

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use means for drinking

In case of violations, medical equipment stores have drinking supplies. “Cups with a cutout for the nose help, for example, with a stiff neck or swallowing disorders,” says Stachelscheid. — And sometimes a mug with handles on the side will do.

Last but not least, mood is also important when it comes to fluid intake. “Toasts, songs, a toast or a demonstration can encourage older people to drink something,” the expert encourages relatives and carers, especially those with dementia.


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