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Nutrition for older adults

We are all living longer. Today almost one in five adults is over the age of 65 years. Unfortunately for many, the extra years of life are not matched by time spent in good health. Eating well in older age can have a big impact on our health. Here are some key tips for eating as we age making sure the body is getting all the nutrients it needs.

What factors affect how we eat as we age?

  • As we age our sense of taste and smell declines and our bodies become less good at digesting, absorbing and metabolising some nutrients.
  • Energy requirements decrease due to a reduction in metabolic rate and a decline in physical activity. This can lead to weight gain.
  • A lot of older people also have problems chewing food as the health of the teeth and gums deteriorates.
  • Some medicines and foods interact causing nutritional problems.
  • Social factors such as bereavement, isolation and low incomes can impact on how well a person eats.

Healthy weight

About two thirds of older men and women are carrying excess weight, especially around the waist. This increases the risk of a range of cardiac and metabolic diseases, such as strokes, heart attacks and type 2 diabetes. Carrying excess weight also increases the risk of cancer.

Being underweight can also be a problem. As many as 1 in 7 older people are underweight which increases the risk of malnutrition and diseases such as anaemia. Malnutrition also delays recovery from illness and medical procedures.

Weight management in older age

Aim for a nutrient rich diet rather than an energy dense one. Eating lots of fruit, vegetables, and wholegrains such as oats, and pulses provides nutrients without adding too many calories. It is best for older people to reduce intakes of sweet, highly processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, and pastries.

Keep moving

Regular, brisk exercise can help to increase appetite in those that need to eat more. It can also help to reduce weight in those who are too heavy.

Oily fish

Eating one portion of oily fish each week provides beneficial long chain omega-3 fatty acids which can help protect against heart disease. There is some evidence these fatty acids help to alleviate the pain of swollen and tender joints and may also help to preserve eye health, prevent cognitive decline, and improve immune function.

Meat

Including a small amount of meat such as chicken, turkey and lean red meat in the diet provides a rich source of B vitamins as well as iron and zinc.

Getting enough dietary fibre

The gut can become sluggish in old age and so it is important to eat foods containing dietary fibre to keep digestion running smoothly. Adults should aim to eat 30g dietary fibre per day which can be obtained from fibre rich foods such as wholegrain cereals, fruits, vegetables, and pulses.

Bone and joint health

One in three women and one in twelve men over the age of 55 years will suffer from osteoporosis. Adequate intakes of calcium and vitamin D are key to ensure that optimum peak bone mass is attained in early adulthood.

 

Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin via the action of sunlight, but the skin of older people is less efficient at producing it and they may spend less time outdoors. Vitamin D also has an important role in the immune system.

Adults over the age of 65 are advised to take a daily 10 micrograms (μg) supplement of vitamin D as well as eating foods containing vitamin D (e.g. oily fish, eggs, fortified plant milks and breakfast cereals). [read more] 

The recommended daily intake of calcium for adults is 700milligrams (mg). [read more]

Fluids

A regular supply of fresh water, herbal teas, smoothies, and milky drinks made using milk and or regular and chocolate flavoured Oat Drink can keep the body hydrated and help prevent conditions like urinary tract infections.

Anything else to include in the diet?

Try to include some fortified foods such as milk, plant milks, wholemeal bread, and fat spreads, as well as breakfast cereals with added vitamins and minerals such as iron, some B vitamins and calcium.