Nutrition in aging will become an increasingly important issue as the number of Americans over the age of 64 is expected to jump in the next 25 years from the current 15 percent of the population (42.6 million) to 22 percent. For a variety of reasons, nutrient needs change with aging. For example, calorie needs drop, while certain nutrient requirements increase, making it necessary to pack more nutrition into fewer calories. Nutrient-dense soyfoods can help older people meet their dietary needs for protein, fiber, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and potassium. Soyfoods—including tofu, fortified soymilk, edamame, tempeh and whole soybeans—are affordable, convenient and readily available in supermarkets across the country.
Some of the age-related factors affecting health and nutrition include:
The loss of lean muscle mass can lead to gaining body fat.
Dental changes can affect the ability to chew and may affect food choices.
A decrease in gastric (stomach) acid secretion reduces the absorption of iron and vitamin B12.
Appetite and thirst signals can be depressed, leading to malnutrition and dehydration.
Calcium absorption decreases so calcium requirements increase.
Decreased muscle mass and physical activity result in lower energy needs.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III, 40 percent of adults over the age of 70 consumed less than two-thirds of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calories. Protein from plant foods may be especially valuable for older people because these foods are typically low in saturated fat compared to meat and many dairy products. Research suggests that dietary protein is most effective for maintaining muscle mass when it is consumed over the course of a day. Many older Americans consume most of their daily protein at their evening meal. However, consuming 25 to 30 grams of protein at each of three meals throughout the day may be the most effective way to meet protein needs.
Soyfoods are particularly good dietary choices because they are rich in protein that is similar in quality to animal protein. One serving of tofu or one soy-based veggie burger can provide as much as 15 grams of high-quality protein. Powdered soy protein can be added to fruit juice or smoothies for protein-packed snacks. Unlike many commonly consumed protein-rich foods, soyfoods are also cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat. In addition, calcium-fortified soymilk provides the same amount of calcium as cow’s milk, and it is just as well absorbed.