Elderly health and diet

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
January 7, 2008 9:00:00 PM PST
As we grow older, it is more and more important to eat healthy foods and maintain a balanced diet.Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

As we age, especially as we pass 70, if we're lucky, our nutrition needs change. Our bodies respond differently to foods in our diets, and what we eat has to reflect these changes to maintain good health.

It's lunchtime at the Lenox Hill Senior Center at St. Peter's Church. The schedule for the month ensures that each day has a balanced diet. But the elderly, especially those over 70, have to take greater care to maintain a nutritious diet.

"As we grow older, the number of calories we need do go down, so it's very imporotant for us to make use of these limited number of calories to choose foods that are nutrient rich," Dr. Wahida Karmally said.

Dr. Karmally stresses the importance of calcium in the diet.

"Milk is an excellent source of calcium, as well as vitamin D," Dr. Karmally said. "People should try to consume at least thee cups a day."

Seventy-nine year-old Lee Van Dyke knows that.

"I drink a great deal of milk," she said. "Sometimes I even drink a quart a day."

The best is skim milk. Older people should avoid fat to avoid excess weight, as older muscles tend to be replaced by fat.

Changes in the body that happen as we age can make it difficult for elderly people to get the nutrition they need.

Chewing may be difficult because of dental problems. The sense of thirst deteriorates in the elderly, so they must make sure to drink enough each day. Basic foods, such as proteins, are critical to maintain muscles. This includes chicken, fish and eggs. Fiber in beans, grains and bread is still essential. Ask Benito Lerma, who volunteers at the center.

"I have fiber in the morning with cereal, bananas, strawberries, all kinds of berries, depending on the season," the 69-year-old Lerma said.

Dr. Karmally says that multi-vitamins and calcium pills are OK, but she stresses the word supplement. They are supposed to supplement the nutrients in a normal diet.