Aging Necessitates Changing Diet

The energy stored in food is measured in terms of “calories”, which is a measurement tool for food just as inches or yards are a measurement for a specific distance. Calories measure the amount of energy contained in a food or beverage — whether it originates from a carbohydrate, fat, protein, or alcohol.

Whether young in age or elderly, we all need a certain number of calories for our bodies to function. Calories are the energy our body extracts from the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in the food that we eat.  However, when dealing with elderly parents, we suggest a careful review of previous blog posts (see:  Iron, Sodium, and Vitamin A) and diet/nutritional needs of seniors.

While different foods contain different amounts of energy, a single fat calorie has the same amount of energy as a single protein or carbohydrate calorie. Your caloric intake must be balanced with activity to maintain a proper weight. Our elderly parents, who are prone to live a more sedentary lifestyle, should not over indulge in foods with “empty” food calories. Rather, a well-balanced diet which is high in vitamins and minerals will deliver an adequate amount of calories while providing the maximum amount of nutrients. A diet with too few vitamins and minerals may lead to chronic diseases.

The following foods are generally considered to contain mostly “empty calories” — foods or liquids that are lacking in nutrients and which may lead to weight gain: cake, cookies, sweets, candy, ice cream, soft drinks, fruit-flavored beverages and jello and other foods containing added sugar; refined grains, such as white bread or white rice; margarine or shortening; butter, and other saturated fats; beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages.

The process of breaking down food for use as energy is called “metabolism”. The body breaks down food molecules to release the energy stored within them. This energy is needed for vital functions like movement, thought, growth — everything that we do requires the use of fuel. The body stores energy it does not need in the form of fat cells for future use. Increased activity results in increased metabolism as the body needs more fuel. The opposite is also true. With decreased activity the body continues to store energy in fat and does not use it up.   An aging senior is more likely to have a slower metabolism than a teenager.  Therefore, weight gain can be the result of increased intake of food, decreased activity, or both. Generally, the most desirable method of weight reduction is a diet that is moderate in calories and a lifestyle that engages in routine exercise.

It is recommended that caloric intake for men should range from 2,000 to 2,600 calories a day. This assumes men who are lightly to moderately active and who strive to maintain their weight. For women who are lightly to moderately active: 1,600 to 1,800 calories a day.

If you’re 50 or more and not physically active, the extra calories will add weight and increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some kinds of cancer. It takes only 100 extra calories a day to end up with an extra 10 pounds at the end of a year. The key to preventing weight gain is to balance your calorie intake with the energy you expend through physical activity. Since certain nutrients become even more important as you age, you need to make the most of your limited calories by choosing low-calorie foods loaded with nutrients.