It is important to eat healthy, nutritious food no matter what age you are, however as you get into later years the body starts slowing down and is unable to absorb and metabolise nutrients as well as it used. It is also common for older people to have a small appetite and low food intake, which can lead to low energy, weight issues and health problems. Therefore it is even more important to eat plenty of food that is high in all of the essential nutrients if you want to carry on being fit and healthy in your later years. I have outlined below some ideas that you should be thinking of to help maintain good health.
What nutrients should you be looking out for?
I always advise clients no matter how old, that the diet should be based around the following:
Proteins including fish, poultry and some red meat, eggs, tofu, beans, pulses, peas, rice, quinoa, organic milk and/or fermented dairy products such as yogurt, buttermilk, kefir.
Vegetables and fruit are important for your daily supply of vitamins and minerals. Make sure you get lots of varying colours so that you can be sure you’re getting a good variety of all of the vitamins and minerals that you need. Raw and organic are always best. You can easily include raw vegetables and fruit in your diet by including salads, smoothies and sprouted beans, pulses & seeds in your diet. If you struggle to eat raw vegetables then just steam them lightly rather than boiling.
Wholemeal grains and cereals include foods such as brown rice, oats, bran, barley, wholemeal wheat, rye, millet, buckwheat, quinoa etc.
Healthy unsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocados, oily fish, cold pressed unsaturated oils e.g. olive, safflower, sesame oil etc., olive/sunflower spreads.
Dairy alternatives which include almond/oat/coconut rice milk/cream.
Plenty of water to keep you hydrated. At least 2 litres.
If you follow this sort of diet and cut down on junk/unhealthy/processed food & drinks such as refined flour/sugar, caffeine, alcohol, artificial additives, preservatives, colours & flavourings, you’ll be doing your body a whole lot of good.
Additional considerations for the older generation
Fibre is an important dietary material containing substances such as cellulose, lignin, and pectin, which the body is unable to digest and so can help with bowel movements. Getting plenty of fibre in the diet helps to prevent constipation; something that can affect the quality of life of many older people. The best sources of fibre are wholegrains and cereals (see above), fruits and vegetables, potatoes (with skin on), pulses, beans, peas and lentils. If chewing is difficult due to dental problems then it’s best to have food that doesn’t need much chewing e.g. oats, lentils, wholemeal cereals soaked in milk, grated apples, pears, carrots, courgettes. Even if you can’t chew your food very well make sure you still keep your food in your mouth for a few minutes and mix it well with saliva, this helps to start the digestive process and makes it easier to swallow your food.
Aim for at least 3 – 4 portions per day. 1 portion = 1 handful of cooked brown rice/beans/pulses, 1 piece of brown bread, 1 apple, 1 handful of berries, 2 medium potatoes etc.
Protein is needed for building and repairing body tissues; an important nutrient due to the fact that when you age, damaged tissue and wounds tend to heal more slowly.
Aim for at least 3 servings of protein per day. 1 serving = 1 piece of chicken, 2 eggs, 100ml milk/yogurt.
Healthy Fats As you get older your appetite may alter so you don’t feel like eating so much so it’s really important to make sure you get enough calories in your diet so you don’t lose too much weight. Eating healthy fats is a great way to increase your calorie intake. Include things like oily fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines), avocados, seeds, nuts, nut butters, vegetables oils. These will help to give you more energy and to keep the weight on.
Aim for 4 portions per day, 1 dsp oil/butter, 1 small handful of nuts/seeds, 1 avocado, 1 small oily fish.
B vitamins are important for the brain and the nervous system. Eating plenty of varied plant based foods can improve your mental function. B Vitamins can be found in vegetables, fruit, beans, pulses, seeds, nuts, wholegrain cereals and grains.
Potassium deficiency is associated with depression, confusion, muscular weakness and loss of appetite in older people. A varied diet of fruits and vegetables and wholegrain cereals will provide these nutrients. Include vegetables such as sweet potatoes, white potato, spinach, beetroot, black beans, white beans, butternut squash.
Vitamin B12 becomes harder to absorb as you get older. This is found in meat & fish, dairy products, eggs and some fortified cereals. People who are deficient are at increased risk of anaemia and neurological problems such as memory loss. Therefore make sure you are getting the recommended amount of animal protein in your diet. If you struggle to eat enough animal products then supplement with a dose of Vitamin B12 2mg or less per day.
Vitamin C and zinc are important in supporting the immune system. Vitamin C is found mainly in fruits and some vegetables. Low intakes are associated with susceptibility to pressure sores and infection. The best sources of zinc are animal products such as meat, dairy, eggs and shellfish, as well as nuts and seeds.
Vitamin D supports the maintenance of healthy bones and muscle strength. Deficiency can lead to osteomalacia which can make bones soft and painful and prone to bone fractures. The skin can make Vitamin D when exposed to the sun, however the skin is less adept at manufacturing vitamin D as you age so dietary sources are important. The best dietary source is oily fish, there are also small amounts in eggs and fortified margarine and breakfast cereals. It may also be worthwhile supplementing particularly during the winter months; 10mcg is the recommended daily amount.
Calcium is needed to build strong bones and teeth but it is also needed for muscle contractions, your heartbeat and it gives the blood its ability to clot normally. It is well known that a deficiency in later years can lead to osteoporosis. The best sources of calcium are fish (sardines and canned salmon with soft bones), tofu, white beans, dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, dried figs, blackstrap molasses, black eyed peas and almonds. Reduce your salt intake as this can increase the amount of calcium released in the urine.
Calcium can be supplemented by taking a daily dose of calcium phosphate/cholecalciferel which is a mixture of Vitamin D and Calcium. .
Iron is an essential part of haemoglobin which forms part of the red blood cells and is needed to carry oxygen around the body. It is notoriously difficult to absorb and can be even more difficult for older people. A deficiency can cause anaemia which can lead to fatigue and low energy levels. Good sources include red meat, offal such as liver, dark green leafy vegetables, pulses and some dried foods. Vitamin C which is found in fruits and some vegetables, helps with the absorption of iron.
Note: Alcohol, smoking and caffeine can all inhibit the absorption of certain nutrients so avoid them if you can, if you feel this is too difficult then avoid partaking of these around meal times.
Cooking and Preparing Meals
If you live on your own motivating yourself to cook for yourself can be difficult; you may have the feeling that it’s just not worth the effort. However you may find that the sharing of meals with friends will help to bring back the interest in preparing and eating food, so think about whom you can share meals with and maybe form a rota between you all; encouraging each one to make a healthy, nutritious meal.
Home cooked food from fresh ingredients is always best as there is more nutritional value in it and you can be sure that you know what’s in it. If you can't cook then now is a good time to learn.
If you really must eat ready-made meals then check the ingredients. Ready-made meals can contain a lot of additives, preservatives and salt to prolong the shelf life and make it taste and look better; these are not good for your health. Always check the ingredients and if some of ingredients look like they belong in a chemistry set then put the meal back on the shelf. Ingredients in ready-made meals should just contain food ingredients that you recognise.
Changes in the senses
As you get older your taste buds tend to deteriorate, to compensate you may add extra salt but this can lead to high blood pressure, or sugar which can lead to weight gain and diabetes. Instead season food with herbs and spices. Use maple syrup, a good quality honey, agave or fruit syrup if you must sweeten things.
Your sense of smell may be impaired too which can lead to a loss of appetite since smelling stimulates the desire to eat. It helps therefore to make small, colourful, tasty, rich fragrant meals which will entice the palate and be more interesting.
Keep your mind and body active
Just because you’re in your later years doesn’t mean that you should spend the rest of your day’s vegging in front of the television on your own. It’s important to keep your mind and body active; go for regular walks or join a yoga class, do things that tax your brain, learn new things regularly. Find groups that you can join or volunteer for needy causes. Just because you’re not working anymore doesn’t mean that you don’t have a purpose in life, so find a new purpose and keep on living your life to the full.
Live long and prosper!
If you feel like you need any help in improving your health and well-being then please drop me an email or give me a ring or check out my website for more information.
Disclaimer: Before embarking on any diet or fitness regime always speak to your doctor first.