With the American elderly population growing at the fastest rate of all age groups, it makes good sense to think about the nutrition needs of the aging.

Many fail to get the nutrition necessary to meet their needs. This could be due to a fixed income, lack of transportation or social support, lack of understanding, depression, chewing problems, medications or taste alterations. A poor diet contributes to poor health and poor quality of life, and many diseases that we face in old age are controlled with a proper diet.

Take a few minutes to review the special needs of aging. If you’re in this age group or know someone in need of help or attention, consider taking the time to assist him or her in getting better nutrition.

The concept of nutrient density is important. You may know that human metabolism, or the way that we use energy (calories) in the body, slows down with age. What that means is that we can’t afford to eat as many calories in old age as we did when we were teenagers. Nutrient density, or nutrients per calorie, should increase in the foods we choose as we age.

To illustrate this, consider the difference between a snack of apple pie versus a fresh apple. The pie has lots of added sugar, fat and calories. We get the benefit of fruit and fiber by eating the fresh apple at a fraction of the pie’s calories. If you choose to get your fruit servings from apple pie, you will either get too many calories (and gain weight) or you will sacrifice other foods in your diet to avoid gaining weight. This will eventually lead to poor healthy from poor nutrition.

To make healthy dietary choices, choose foods that are nutrient-dense – lots of value in relatively fewer calories.

Guidelines for choosing the right foods as we age:

• Get a wide variety of nutritious foods.

• Eat three to six small meals per day.

• Eat more fruits and vegetables.

• Eat high-fiber cereals and whole-grain breads.

• Drink adequate water and fluids.

• For poor chewing, choose soft or ground foods.

• For poor taste sensation, try more spices and herbs.

• If you can’t cook due to physical limitations, try microwaving prepared foods.

• If you are short on money, try buying low-cost foods like dried beans, rice and pasta. You shop the sales or ask for assistance from your church or synagogue. You may even qualify for food stamps with a limited income.

• If you can’t shop, call your grocery store to see if it delivers.

Italian Tomato Mozzarella Salad

Serves 4

2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered

3 tablespoons (¾ oz) part-skim mozzarella cheese

¼ cup Bolthouse Classic Ranch yogurt dressing

2 tablespoons Italian dressing

1 tablespoon fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes and mozzarella cheese

In a small bowl, combine ranch dressing and Italian dressing.

Pour dressing mixture over tomato mixture. Add parsley. Mix gently to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Gently stir again just before serving.

Tracey Shaffer, RD, LD, is a Hy-Vee dietitian at the Blue Springs location. The information provided should not be construed as professional medical advice. Email her at tshaffer@hy-vee.com.