14 July 2021

How to eat healthy in older age

Older people sharing healthy food at dinner party

Being fit and healthy at any age is an admirable trait, however, as we progress through life it becomes more important to take care of our bodies. When people think about getting healthy, many minds go straight to physical activity however, getting on top of your diet and ensuring what you put into your body is healthy is a much more important factor when it comes to wellbeing. It’s also a much easier thing to control, especially for those who may struggle with their mobility and rely on home aids like stairlifts in the UK.

Whether you are starting your healthy eating journey or are just looking for more advice to implement into your current diet, this article contains some great suggestions on how to attain a healthy diet for older adults.

READ ALSO: Simple things you can do to keep healthy (that isn't exercise)

Crate containing fruits and vegetables

Eat a range of fruit and vegetables

Eating your fruits and vegetables is one of the first food lessons we teach our children and it’s something that we need to remember ourselves. Plus, it’s not simply the number of fruits and vegetables we eat, but the range as well, as they are all beneficial for different things. It’s all well and good eating your five a day but if you are only eating apples, carrots and broccoli you are missing out on a wide range of benefits.

When it comes to fruits and vegetables for older adults to bring into their diet, it really depends on what you eat already and what you may be missing but you can find some suggestions below.

  • Leafy greens – low in calories but high in health benefits, leafy greens are a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre and are thought to reduce the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
  • Berries (especially blueberries) – blueberries are often referred to as a superfood due to their antioxidant properties which can help to boost a person’s immune system.
  • Butternut squash and sweet potatoes – butternut squash and sweet potatoes are filled with beneficial beta-carotene (great for eye health) and are thought to be especially beneficial at controlling blood pressure.
  • Citrus fruits – citrus fruits are loaded full of vitamins and fibre and have many reported benefits such as reducing inflammation, improving gastrointestinal function and preventing serious health conditions.

Incorporate plenty of protein

Making sure to keep your muscles in tip-top shape can be extremely important in later life, as it’s been found that we start to experience muscle loss as young as 50 years old. A great way to give your muscles the helping hand they need is to make sure you are eating plenty of protein. Foods that are good sources of protein include meats, eggs, some dairy products and beans and pulses.

Discussing the science behind muscle loss, known as sarcopenia, nutritionist Paul Fairbairn explains on SR Nutrition: “Some muscle loss is considered as an inevitable yet undesirable consequence of ageing. After reaching a peak in early adult years, skeletal muscle mass declines by 0.5–1.0% year on year, which begins at around 40 years of age (Padden-Jones et al., 2008). Matters can be made worse if an elderly person is bedridden or disabled for a significant period of time, as this will accelerate the loss of lean tissue.

“As we age protein intake tends to decrease and we also appear to be less efficient at utilising protein from our diet. The root cause of this is likely a combination of factors including, increased satiety (fullness after a meal), dentition/chewing difficulties, changes in digestion, reduced ability to cook and mobility issues.”

Protein is what feeds our muscles and without it, our body wouldn’t function properly. As a rule of thumb, guidance says that adults should try and get around 0.75g of protein per kilo of their body weight, on average around 50g. However, this advice is largely aimed at young adults.

Paul explains that in fact: “A panel of experts have recommended a higher protein intake for elderly populations at risk of sarcopenia, advocating 1-1.5g per kilogram of body weight. On top of increasing total daily protein intake, the panel also advise that protein servings should be spaced out throughout the day (Morley et al., 2010).”

Depending on your diet you may find it hard to get a decent amount. If you struggle to incorporate protein-rich foods into your diet for any reason, why not consider protein supplement products such as protein bars and shakes? This can be a great way to get that extra dose of protein.

Woman drinking glass of water

Drink more water

Water is something that all creatures great and small rely on and, for humans, it’s another lesson that we are taught from a young age. However, it’s something that we can forget when discussing health and an important factor in a healthy diet.

Explaining why staying on top of your water consumption in older age is so important, the British Nutrition Foundation said: “Older people are vulnerable to dehydration due to physiological changes in the ageing process, but this can be complicated by many disease states, and mental and physical frailty that can further increase risk of dehydration.

“Age-related changes include a reduced sensation of thirst, and this may be more pronounced in those with Alzheimer’s disease or in those that have suffered a stroke. This indicates that thirst in older people may not be relied on as an indicator of dehydration.”

Consider taking vitamins and minerals

The vitamins and minerals we consume through our food and drink are essential to keeping our body in top working order. However, for some people, whether it’s due to dietary restrictions, allergies or just food preferences, getting a full range of vitamins and minerals can be hard.

If you find that you are lacking in a certain food group or type, then considering taking vitamins and minerals to make up for what you may be missing out on can be extremely beneficial. One example of this is those on a vegan (or vegetarian) diet are often encouraged to take vitamin B12, a vitamin most commonly found in meats and dairy products.

older man serving partner her meal.jpg

Enjoy what you are eating

As we all know, fitness and health aren’t only skin deep and staying on top of your mental health is always important. It can be tempting, especially for those trying to change their body in some way, to stick to a regimented diet and not stray from their meal plan. However, making sure you are enjoying what you are eating and allowing yourself to have little treats is important as well.

Make sure you are checking in with yourself and your body and not being too restrictive with what you eat. Whether you fancy a burger when dining out with friends or tucking into a chocolate bar whilst sat in front of the TV one night, let yourself have it or you’ll just break your plan further down the line.

How to eat healthy in older age

  • Eat a range of fruit and vegetables
  • Incorporate plenty of protein
  • Drink more water
  • Consider taking vitamins and minerals
  • Enjoy what you are eating

All of these tips are great for older people and younger people alike, and it’s important to look after your body and your health at every stage of your life. So, whether you are a fitness fanatic who spends your time working out or someone who struggles with their mobility and is looking to eat healthier, we hope these tips can help.

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