As we get older our lifestyles and appetite can change and this can affect the types and amounts of foods we eat. A decreasing appetite or reduced ability to buy and prepare healthy foods can mean many older people don’t get enough vitamins, minerals and fibre, and this can lead to general unwellness or exacerbate some chronic illness.
The following suggestions can also help you maintain healthy eating habits as you get older.
Use less salt
Everyone requires salt, but too much can increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Salt occurs naturally in many foods such as meat, eggs, milk and vegetables, but much of the salt in our diet comes from the salt added to foods by manufacturers or when adding salt yourself.
Older adults should restrict their intake of high salt foods such as cured meats (e.g. ham, corned beef, bacon), snack foods (e.g. potato chips, savoury pastries) and sauces (such as soy sauce). Instead, choose reduced salt varieties of foods when shopping, and flavour foods with herbs and spices instead of adding salt.
Drink more water
Water provides support for many vital functions in the body, including hydration, digestion and blood volume, however as you age you may not feel as thirsty as often, even when your body needs fluid.
Aim to drink at least six times a day, and more in warmer weather or if you’re exercising. Tea, coffee, mineral water, soda water and reduced fat milk can all count towards your fluid intake during the day, but water is always best!
Limit your intake of foods containing saturated fats and trans fats
Pies, pastries, fried and battered foods, and other items such as chips and chocolate are generally high in saturated fat, and may also contain dangerous trans fats. These foods should only be eaten occasionally.
If you like having desserts, aim to make it partly nutritious and avoid high sugar and saturated fat foods, or those containing trans fats. Try fresh fruits with reduced fat yoghurt for sweetness and flavour, and choose wholegrain and/or oat-based options for crumbles or cakes.
Be careful with alcohol
Alcohol does not provide any essential nutrients but it is full of kilojoules, which can add up.
Consume no more than two standard drinks on any given day, and no more than four standard drinks on any occasion, to reduce the risk of alcohol related disease or injury.
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals can play a role for diagnosed deficiencies, which are not uncommon in older people as they may eat less, or have digestion issues due to illness or medication.
Eating with variety from the core food groups is key, to allow you to get as many different nutrients from various foods as possible.
Special considerations for older adults
Osteoporosis is characterised by a decrease in bone density which increases the risk of fractures. It commonly affects older people, especially women after menopause. Most common areas for fractures are the hips, legs and wrists.
Once calcium is lost from the bones it is difficult to replace. Ways to protect yourself against the progression of the disease include getting enough calcium, fluoride and vitamin D, as well as exercise.
Milk and milk products such as yoghurt and cheese are high in calcium. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that women over 51 should consume four serves of dairy per day, while men ages 50-70 should consume two and a half, men over 70 should have three and a half serves of dairy per day.
Vitamin D is also essential in helping to build and maintain healthy bones. The best source of vitamin D is the sun, but you only need to spend a short period of time in the sunshine each day, to help your body get the vitamin D that it needs. This can vary between 10-30minutes a day depending on your skin type.
People who have been advised to avoid the sun can get some vitamin D from foods such as egg yolk, butter, table margarine, whole milk, yoghurt, cheese and tuna.
Finally, weight-bearing exercise such as walking or resistance training also helps support and develop bone health. Talk to your GP, Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist to discuss exercise that is appropriate for you.
Eating a variety of healthy foods is the best dietary recommendation for those with arthritis, and to help maintain a healthy weight.
Fish oils may have some benefit for rheumatoid arthritis, so eat fish at least twice a week.
To prevent constipation it is important to include foods in your diet that are high in fibre. Wholegrain cereals, wholemeal bread, fruit, dried fruit, dried peas, beans and lentils are excellent sources of fibre.
Fibre and water work well together to help you consume enough fluids throughout the day to help prevent and alleviate constipation.
Shopping for food
Shopping can become difficult for older people that line alone, or those with mobility issues or a lack of transport. So, it can be a good idea to stock up one foods that can keep for a long time without going stale.
This may include:
Canned vegetables (reduced salt where possible)
Baked beans and bean mixes
Rice, spaghetti, macaroni, flour, rolled oats and breakfast cereals
Canned, powdered and reduced fat milk
Canned meat and fish
Sauces (such as reduced fat soy sauce) and pastes (such as reduced fat and salt peanut butter)
Vegetable oil such as olive oil or canola oil
Having a healthy diet and making sure that you keep active will help you to maintain your health as you age.
If you would like to know more about how to improve your diet then consult an Accredited Practising Dietician, or feel free to send us a message at Infinite Health Chatswood - Physiotherapy, Exercise Physiology & Massage Therapy to learn a few more tips.
Similarly, if you would like to read more feel free to click here.