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A Guide to Protein and Fat Diet Requirements for Seniors

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As you age your natural ability to burn energy slows down considerably. Older people also usually have less muscle and body mass than when they were younger. Those 2 health characteristics, combined with a slower metabolism, create a diminished need for fuel. This means your protein and fat requirements as a senior are very different than they used to be.

It is critical for you to understand the dietary requirements and guidelines which lead to maximum health. Your individual situation is uniquely different than anyone else’s. However, the following recommendations give you a rough guideline of how much fat and protein you should be consuming on a daily basis.

How Much Protein Should a Senior Citizen Eat Each Day?

As a secondary source of energy when you don’t have enough fat and carbohydrates to draw from, healthy protein levels are especially important in senior citizens. According to the US Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board, women over 50 years of age need to consider 46 grams of protein a day as the absolute minimum.

Men over 50 should try to get at least 56 g of protein in their daily diet. Remember, these are minimum recommendations. Your health and weight status will directly impact how much protein you should be eating.

Healthy fish like salmon and mackerel, lean meats like chicken, and healthy foods like eggs, nuts and beans all deliver high levels of protein. (Senior Protein Tip – you should consume at least 0.8 grams of daily protein for each kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight.)

How Much Fat Is Recommended for Seniors?

The key here is making sure you focus on the right kinds of fat. For example, trans fats are dangerous and deadly and need to be avoided entirely. However, essential fatty acids are absolutely required if you are going to enjoy a healthy life. Fat is calorie dense, at 9 calories per gram. So you definitely need to watch how much fat you ingest, no matter how old you are.

As a senior, 20% to 30% of your daily caloric intake should be fat.

After age 50 women should be consuming 1,600 to 2,200 calories a day, depending on their physical activity level. Men should eat 2,000 to 2,400 calories each day after age 50, again depending on how active they are. Using those calorie totals, women need between 320 and 660 grams of healthy fat each day. Men should aim for 400 to 720 grams of daily fat after age 50.

You want to limit saturated fats like those found in most animal foods. Focus on monounsaturated fats, which are found predominantly in plants. Polyunsaturated fats are found in fish like salmon, and they are healthy as well. Almonds, avocados, extra-virgin olive oil, flax seed, and walnuts are other foods that deliver healthy fats.

How Changes in Bone Density Affect Seniors

As seniors age, their bones become less dense due to the loss of calcium and other minerals. This erosion of bone material, called osteoporosis, is usually more pronounced in women who have already been through menopause. Your doctor can do a bone density test to see if you are at risk for osteoporosis.

Other changes that occur from aging include joint inflammation, pain, stiffness and even deformity. This not only affects body flexibility, but also balance.

Because the bones are more brittle now with less density, you have less balance, and you may have gained weight thus putting more pressure on them, thus increasing your risk of breaking a bone resulting from a fall.

And because seniors do not heal as fast as younger people, a bone fracture can land you in a nursing home until healed. Some fractures never do heal properly and the person ends up losing much of their independence.

Preventing Loss of Bone Density

While the aging process cannot be stopped entirely, there are a couple of things you can do to slow down bone density loss. One is to keep exercising, especially strength training and yoga.

Weight lifting is the best strength training exercise for preserving muscle mass and bone density. Use lighter weights, but perform more repetitions. The goal is not to bulk up, but to tone the muscle you have left. That muscle mass will support your joints and lessen your risk of falling.

Yoga benefits seniors by keeping the joints flexible, which also helps maintain balance.

Getting Enough Calcium and Vitamin D

To preserve bone density, postmenopausal women and men over the age of 65 should ensure they are getting 1,200mg of calcium and 400 to 800 international units of Vitamin D each day either through food consumed, a vitamin supplement or both.

Why Vitamin D? Because Vitamin D allows the body to metabolize and absorb calcium into the bones.

In the case of Vitamin D, you can get your daily requirement by being out in the sun for 5 to 10 minutes per day. If you get your vitamin D from the food you eat, good sources include:

• Salmon
• Egg yolks
• Cauliflower
• Skim or low fat dairy products
• Nuts
• Unsaturated vegetable oils, such as olive and canola

A combination of strength training, yoga and getting enough calcium and Vitamin D each day will not only slow the loss of bone density, but will help you keep your balance and flexibility, thus reducing your risk of bone breakage from falling.

Exercise Tips for Preventing Muscle, Bone and Joint Problems as You Age

As we age, we start to lose muscle due to hormonal changes, along with a lack of protein and exercise. Because muscle helps stabilize bones, muscle loss can also start to cause joint problems especially in the hips and knees. And if you have certain medical conditions such as diabetes, heart and kidney disease, it can accelerate the loss of muscle.

It is important to do what you can to preserve muscle as diminished muscle mass can cause bad posture, breathing problems, lack of balance resulting in falls, and even mental conditions such as depression.

While many people consider losing muscle mass as just collateral damage of the aging process, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Hormonal Replacement Therapy

For example if the cause of muscle loss is due to low testosterone, hormonal replacement therapy can bring the level back up where it should be. A simple test at the doctor’s office can confirm if your level is low or not.

Eat More Protein

Because a lack of protein is a cause of muscle loss in older adults, ensure you are eating good lean sources of it each day, including chicken breasts, fish, egg whites and turkey. Strive to eat at least seven grams of protein per twenty pounds of body weight daily.

Stay away from heavy sauces, fried foods and many of the bakery products as they are loaded with saturated fat, sugar and sodium – all of which are not good for you.

Exercise More

And the last one, exercise, is more important now that it was when you were younger, yet many seniors don’t exercise at all.

Not only will it make your arthritic joints feel better by keeping them moving, it is important to preserve (and even build) muscle.

A mix of cardio and strength training is the best. Cardio can be as simple as going for a brisk walk every day. That will loosen up most of your large muscle groups. Then once the muscles are warmed up do some light strength training, such as weight lifting, to increase muscular strength. Start and end your workouts with some light stretching.

As you can see by keeping the proper testosterone level, eating adequate protein and exercising regularly, you can stall (or at least slow down) the aging process and resulting loss of muscle. By maintaining adequate muscle, you can also stave off bone and joint problems.

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