Nutrition and Ageing

As we age, eating well can be the key to a positive outlook and staying emotionally balanced as well as helping to maintain good health. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be about dieting and sacrifice -  eating well as an older adult is all about fresh, colourful food, creativity in the kitchen, and eating with friends. Good nutrition keeps muscles, bones, organs, and other body parts strong and older adults can feel better immediately and stay healthy for the future by choosing healthy foods.  A balanced diet and physical activity contribute to a higher quality of life and enhanced independence as you age.

Healthy diet as we age

Key parts of a healthy diet as we age include:

Fruit and vegetables – aim to eat whole fruits rather than juices to get more fibre and vitamins and try to eat around 2 servings each day. With vegetables, choose antioxidant-rich dark, leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and broccoli as well as orange and yellow vegetables, such as carrots, squash, and yams. Try to eat at least 2-3 portions of vegetables every day.

Calcium.  Enough Calcium in the diet as you age is essential to maintain bone health and in preventing osteoporosis and bone fractures. Older people need 1,200 mg of calcium a day through servings of milk, yogurt, or cheese. There are also non-dairy sources of calcium such as  tofu, broccoli, almonds, and kale.

Grains and protein. Try to choose whole grains, rather than processed white flour, for more nutrients and more fibre. (If you’re not sure, look for pasta, breads, and cereals that list “whole” in the ingredient list). Seniors need about 170g of grains each day (about 1 slice of bread) and about 0.8 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight. Vary the source of your protein with fish, beans, peas, nuts, eggs, milk, cheese, and seeds.

Water. Older people are more prone to dehydration because as we age, our bodies lose some of the ability to regulate fluid levels and our sense of thirst reduces. Remember to sip water every hour and with meals to avoid urinary tract infections, constipation, and even confusion.

Vitamin B. After the age of 50, the stomach produces less gastric acid making it difficult to absorb vitamin B-12. If your diet is low in vitamin B from fish, cheese, meat and eggs then you can achieve the recommended daily intake (2.4 mcg) of B12 from fortified foods such as cereals or a vitamin supplement.

Vitamin D. We take in most of our vitamin D through exposure to sunshine and through foods such as oily fish, egg yolks and fortified milk. With age, our skin is less efficient at synthesizing vitamin D, so consider supplementing your diet with fortified foods or a multivitamin.

Tips for eating well

To get into the habit of eating well in older age:

Reduce your intake of sodium (salt) to help prevent water retention and high blood pressure. Look for the “low sodium” label and season meals with garlic, herbs, and spices instead of salt.

Focus on ‘good fat’. Use olive oil, avocados, salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, and other monounsaturated fats in your diet as your ‘good’ fat intake - the fat from these types of food can protect your body against heart disease by controlling ‘bad’ LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels and raising ‘good’ HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels.

Add fibre to your diet and help avoid constipation by eating high-fibre foods such as raw fruits and vegetables, whole-grains, and beans.

Keep ‘bad’ carbohydrates to a minimum – these are also known as simple or unhealthy carbohydrates. These are foods such as white flour, refined sugar, and white rice that have been stripped of fibre and many nutrients as part of their production. ‘Bad’ carbohydrates digest quickly and cause short-term spikes in blood sugar levels and therefore only short bursts of energy. For long-lasting energy and stable insulin levels, choose ‘good’ or complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables.

Avoid hidden sugar, usually found in foods such as bread, canned soups and vegetables, pasta sauce, instant mashed potatoes, frozen dinners, fast food, and ketchup.

Maintaining a balanced diet

Creating a well-balanced diet doesn’t have to be difficult. Avoid skipping meals as this causes your metabolism to slow down, which leads to feeling sluggish and making poor food choices later in the day. To stay on course with a healthy diet, always ask if you need help to shop or cook, rather than eating frozen dinners or takeaway meals. If you get bored with what you are eating, try cooking something new, and keep every meal simple. By stocking up with wholesome choices it will be easier to prepare quick, tasty meals. If you usually eat whilst watching TV, try eating while reading instead, or use the time to catch up with your spouse or a friend. Don’t rush your food – enjoy mealtimes and the knowledge that you are helping keep yourself as healthy as possible!