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Geriatric Health Advice: Diet

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Ageing means a slowing down in the body’s metabolic processes, so foods which are easily digestible and high in fiber will help to alleviate symptoms associated with growing old.
  • Growing old means a decrease in the number of sex hormones being produced, meaning that the elderly is prone to mood swings. They should therefore select foods which can aid happiness hormone production, such as brown rice, grains, nuts, salmon, eggs, bananas, dark chocolate, tofu and soy milk.
  • Members of the elderly population should avoid eating foods which are high in fat because the decrease in estrogen and testosterone levels can result in an accumulation of fat, leading to an increased risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes.

 

As we reach 40-50 years of age, our bodies produce fewer sex hormones, meaning both male testosterone and female estrogen, so this age marks a huge change for the bodies of both men and women. This lack of hormone production results in various symptoms, such as hot flushes, night-time perspiration, difficulties sleeping, mood swings, forgetfulness, as well as an increased risk of developing numerous health disorders, like high blood lipid levels, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and obesity.

Being aware of what is considered a healthy, balanced diet for this age group will help to reduce problems and risk factors for elderly health conditions, keeping you feeling fit and well enough to lead a happy and fulfilling lifestyle.

Vital components of a healthy diet

Aside from general issues that come with reaching old age, the ageing process also causes a reduction in the body’s metabolic rates. Thus, choosing a healthy, balanced diet consisting of foods that are easily digestible and high in fiber is key to reducing both short and long-term symptoms of old age. Moreover, these foods can help to keep skin feeling fresh and moisturized while also ensuring protection against disorders that may arise from being overweight.

Recommended diet

Being prone to mood swings comes with the territory when we reach old age, due to the reduction in sex hormone production. Therefore, foods recommended for regular consumption are those which can improve happiness-related hormone production, such as brown rice, grains, nuts, salmon, eggs, bananas, dark chocolate, tofu and soy milk, especially the full range of products made from soybeans. Eating these foods regularly will aid the reduction of hot flushes while also helping to lower coronary artery disease risk.

In addition to hormonal changes, old age brings with it the risk of osteoporosis and a high risk of fractured bones, so foods which are full of calcium are highly recommended, for instance, low-fat yogurt, low-fat milk, green vegetables and fruits. This is because most fruits especially berries such as blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, as well as apples, grapes and oranges contain the mineral boron, which helps the body retain estrogen hormones and reduce calcium loss. Another great source of the mineral boron is the cruciferous family of vegetables, including broccoli, stalk vegetables, cauliflower and radishes.

Being sure to increase the intake of fruits and vegetables will also increase crucial vitamin and mineral levels, while the fibrous foods will ease bowel movements, alleviate constipation and increase personal comfort. Fruits and vegetables also contain phytoestrogen, which displays qualities similar to those found in estrogen, meaning these foods offer yet another way to relieve the symptoms of old age.

Foods that should be avoided

Some foods and beverages may actually cause a deterioration in the symptoms associated with old age, for example, regular consumption of alcoholic beverages and caffeinated drinks, including tea and coffee, will result in a reduction in the body’s ability to absorb calcium, thereby increasing the risk of osteoporosis.

Members of the elderly population should also avoid foods that are high in fat, overly rich, or overly spicy, as well as crispy, sweet snacks and processed foods. The reason for this is that the body’s reduction in estrogen and testosterone levels means that fat can easily accumulate around the abdomen, with obesity a likely consequence, leading to an increased risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes.

Eating little and often

In addition to the advisable and inadvisable foods mentioned above, being sure to break meals down into smaller portions can help to improve the body’s metabolic efficiency, meaning that blood sugar levels remain stable, and the body is less prone to tiredness.

Nonetheless, skipping meals altogether should be avoided, especially breakfast, as this meal is vital in fueling the body throughout the day. For evening meals, try to reduce carbohydrate intake and increase low-fat proteins that are easily digestible, such as chicken breasts and fish.

The following table is a breakdown of how various symptoms of old age can be eased through dietary choices

ConditionRecommended dietFoods to be limited/avoided
1. High blood lipid levels
  • Unsaturated fats can help to reduce cholesterol levels; these include fish, egg whites, tofu, skinless red meat, milk, low-fat yogurt, rice bran oil, olive oil, hard-shelled nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashew nuts, pistachio nuts, etc.)
  • Low cholesterol foods, such as fish, egg whites, skinless red meat and tofu.
  • Omega-3 rich foods help to reduce blood triglyceride levels, for example flax seeds, walnuts, pangasius, mackerel, salmon, tuna, catfish and seabass.
  • Foods high in fiber, for example, brown rice, oats, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, soy beans, red beans, black beans, millet, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Preparing food in a way that reduces calories by boiling, baking, steaming, grilling or eating raw in a fresh salad.
  • High Saturated fat levels increase cholesterol levels in the blood; these include fatty red meat, animal skin, offal, processed meats (sausages, sour sausages, Chinese sausages, hams, bacon, etc.), coconut cream, condensed milk, butter, cream made from animal fats, coconut oil and palm oil.
  • Foods which contain trans-fats, such as margarine, artificial cream, baked goods, crispy snacks and foods fried in oils that have not been regularly changed.
  • High cholesterol foods, including egg yolk (of which no more than 2 should be consumed per week), offal, crab, shrimp, shellfish, squid, fish eggs, as well as crab and shrimp oils.
  • Foods that are high in sugar also increase cholesterol and triglyceride levels, such as cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream, chocolate, sweet snacks, sweet drinks, fruit juices and carbonated beverages.
  • Oily, deep fried foods.
2. Diabetes/high blood pressure/coronary artery disease/obesity and being overweight
  • Abide by the same key rules which are recommended for those with high blood lipid levels.
  • Seasonal fresh fruits, such as guava, dragon fruit, apples, pears, Chinese pears, strawberries, blueberries, oranges and rose apples.
  • Drinks that have no added sugar, or very small amounts of added sugar, such as chrysanthemum juice, bael juice, roselle juice, tea, fresh milk, or low-fat soy milk.
  • Reducing salt intake means consuming no more than 1 teaspoon of salt per day, or no more than 3 teaspoons of fish sauce, soy sauce or any other seasoning sauces, per day. Instead, use other forms of seasoning, such as lemon juice, pepper, spring onion, basil, garlic, lemongrass and lime leaves.
  • Overly sweet fruits, such as longan, durian, jackfruit, custard apple and sapodilla.
  • Sugary beverages, including coffee, ice tea, ice black coffee, sweet drinks, fruit juices, carbonated beverages, yoghurt drink, or soy milk with added sugar.
  • Processed foods, for example sweetened or salted canned goods (look at the labelling to be sure), pickled goods, salted meat, salted fish, processed pork, sausages, Chinese sausage, processed fruit, sweetened fruit and dried fruits.
3. Osteoporosis
  • Phytoestrogen is a substance that is found in grains, which helps stimulate estrogen production. This, in turn, helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Brown rice, soy beans, green beans, black beans, cabbages, pumpkin, broccoli, carrots, papaya and potato are all good sources of phytoestrogen.
  • Sources of calcium help to improve bone marrow strength. Reliable sources of calcium include mini shrimp, tiny fish, soy milk with added calcium, yogurt, kale, green lettuce, peas, eggplant, cassia leaves and red beans.
  • Getting enough vitamin D in order to aid calcium absorption can be achieved through exposure to direct, but weak sunlight for around 15 minutes each day.
  • Foods that are high in phytate and oxalate inhibit calcium absorption. Such foods include, mulberry leaves, betel leaves, bamboo shoots, spinach and tea leaves. Hence, these foods should not be consumed within 3 hours of any calcium rich foods being eaten.
5. Hot flushes
  • Source of phytoestrogen (refer to the information on osteoporosis)
  • Overly rich foods, hot drinks, caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.
4. Insomnia
  • Tripofen refers to the amino acids which are the main substances within melatonin and serotonin, both of which play a part in helping us to sleep. This chemical can be found in soybeans, eggs, chicken breast, tuna, turkey, sunflower seeds, tofu, pistachio nuts, oats and bananas.
  • Caffeinated drinks, such as tea, coffee and carbonated beverages.

Healthy meal suggestions for a 7-day schedule

Day

BreakfastLunchAfternoon snack

Dinner

Sunday

 

  • Brown rice soup with fish
  • Soy milk with added grains
  • A banana
  • Steamed brown rice
  • Thai vegetable soup with fresh shrimp
  • Pineapple baked pork
  • Low-fat soy bean curd with fresh milk
  • Grilled fish steak
  • Onion soup
  • Fruit salad
Monday

 

 

  • Whole wheat sandwich with tuna filling
  • low-fat yogurt
  • strawberries
  • Chicken noodle soup with bitter gourd
  • Pandan juice
  • A guava
  • Thai-style black sesame seed and ginger dessert
  • Steamed brown rice
  • Mushroom laab
  • Spicy, sour mackerel soup
Tuesday

 

  • Steamed brown rice
  • Vegetable broth containing bitter gourd stuffed with minced pork
  • Stuffed tofu pieces
  • Spicy clam spaghetti
  • Grilled mushroom salad with a boiled egg
  • Cherries
  • Almonds
  • A rose apple
  • Rice topped with grilled salmon
  • Japanese-style seaweed salad
  • Cantaloupe
Wednesday

 

  • Oat-based rice congee with minced pork and spring onions
  • An apple
  • Yellow noodle soup with red pork
  • Papaya

 

  • A tofu-based snack
  • Steamed brown rice
  • Baked chicken with fried kale
  • Clear tom yum soup with fish
Thursday

 

  • Soba noodle soup with pork and pak choi
  • Green tea
  • A tangerine
  • Steamed brown rice
  • Fish cooked in tamarind sauce
  • Guard soup with chicken
  • Fruit salad with yogurt
  • Thick noodles in gravy with seafood
  • Lemongrass juice
  • Watermelon
Friday

 

  • Whole wheat bread with peanut butter
  • Omelet
  • 5-colored vegetable and tofu salad
  • Noodle soup with fish balls
  • Grapefruit
  • Fat-free milk
  • A kiwi fruit

 

  • Steamed brown rice
  • Orange curry with vegetables and fish
  • Grilled pork with herbs
Saturday

 

  • Chicken rice soup with straw mushrooms
  • Soy milk with millet
  • A Chinese pear
  • Steamed brown rice
  • Mackerel with chili sauce and blanched vegetables
  • Cabbage stuffed with steamed minced pork
  • Steamed dumplings
  • Macaroni soup with chicken
  • Iceberg lettuce salad with shrimp
  • Pineapple

* Daily sugar intake should be limited to no more than 6 teaspoons.

In addition to taking care of our diet as we reach old age, treating our bodies with care in other ways can ensure the potentially lifestyle-altering impacts of the ageing process are reduced. Furthermore, acting in accordance with the following guidelines could also help to decrease the risk of developing various types of health disorder:

  1. Be careful not to allow yourself to become overweight.
  2. Eat a healthy, varied diet consisting of the 5 main food groups in moderation and, if you need further guidance on how to do this, please consult a nutritionist at your earliest convenience.
  3. Drink at least 8 glasses of water per day.
  4. Limit the drinking of caffeinated drinks to no more than 2 cups per day.
  5. Avoid alcohol and do not smoke.
  6. Partake in some form of exercise for at least 150 minutes/week (3-5 days a week, each session lasting around half an hour), or as instructed by your doctor for those with congenital health conditions.
  7. Practice mental wellbeing and avoid stress.
  8. Try to get enough sleep, meaning around 8 hours per night.
  9. Get plenty of fresh air and eat in a way that ensures regular bowel movements.
  10. Attend your annual health checkup.

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