Aging, Nutrition and Taste
Many things change as we age. Two of those things are our nutritional requirements and our sense of taste. These two changes combine to present challenges as we pursue healthy life styles and longevity.
Nutritional requirements may change due to physiological or biochemical changes that occur with aging. The most basic of these is our basal metabolic rate. As we age, most individuals require fewer calories to meet their energy needs and maintain their basal metabolic rate. If we don’t adjust our food consumption, we are likely to gain weight and encounter related problems.
Other nutritional requirement changes may occur in response to disease processes. Your doctor may recommend weight loss and restricting sodium intake to help control hypertension. Increased calcium intake may help to prevent the bone loss of osteoporosis. Older adults are more likely than younger adults to develop diseases that require diet modification and are more likely to develop diet related diseases. Your doctor may make dietary recommendations along with prescriptions. She may also give you a referral to a nutritionist who may provide detailed recommendations tailored to your specific needs and tastes.
In addition to these changing needs, many of us also experience significant changes in our sense of taste as we age. The sense of taste is produced by our taste bud cells and our olfactory nerve endings. At approximately age 50, our taste buds begin losing their sensitivity and their ability to regenerate. In our younger days, each taste bud was replaced every week or two. As well as being older, each taste bud is now less able to sense and communicate information about the food we are eating.
Our taste buds are not alone, though. Our sense of smell is a critical part of our sense of taste. Decreased mucus production in the nose along with a decline in the function of the olfactory nerve endings leads to a decline in our sense of smell and, therefore, our sense of taste.
Many other events or diseases may impact our sense of taste such as Head Injury, Bell’s Palsy, Sjogren’s Syndrome and several neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease. Both Radiation and Chemotherapy treatments for cancer are likely to produce temporary changes in the sense of taste. Dental issues such as gum disease or poorly fitting dentures may affect a person’s sense of taste. And medications, lots of medications, may change the way we experience food. For example, more than 400 medications may cause a salty taste in your mouth. Perhaps you didn’t make a mistake on that recipe; it’s just that something is causing the food to taste differently to you.
To rise to these challenges, it is important to know what your nutritional needs are. Then you may seek out ways to meet those needs in a way that is “tasteful” to you. The USDA recommends 1 ½ – 2 ½ cups of fruit, 2 – 3 ½ cups vegetables, 5 – 10 oz grains, 5 – 7 oz protein, 3 cups dairy, 5 – 8 tsp oils, and small amount of solid fats and added sugars daily for adults over 50. Today there is a wide variety of food available to us in our local grocery store; foods from all over the world. There are herbs and spices to add a whole spectrum of flavors. How many ways can you meet the USDA criteria? Surely there are MANY delicious ways you have yet to discover. Enjoy the adventure!
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