As you get older, the definition of healthy eating does change a little. For example, as you age, your metabolism slows down. On one hand our need for calories goes down, on the other hand our bodies have different needs – the need for certain nutrients increases. So getting adequate nutrition—including protein, fiber, hydration, vitamins, and minerals becomes difficult. Providing your body the right nutrients in adequate quantities is crucial to remain active and independent in old age and also for spending less time and money at the doctor.
Healthy Eating To Fulfil Nutrition Needs Of Elderly
The following suggestions will help you meet your special nutrition needs and maintain healthy eating habits, as you get older.
Use Less Salt
You do need a certain amount of salt, but too much can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease.
Salt is present naturally in many foods such as vegetables, milk, eggs, and meat, but much of the salt in your diet comes from the salt added to the foods by manufacturers or when adding salt yourself. Choose reduced salt varieties of foods when shopping. Read food labels to help you select foods with a low amount of salt. Too much salt is more than 1.5g (0.6g sodium) per 100g of any food item.
Tips To Reduce Salt Intake:
(i) Avoid adding salt to your food at the table and in cooking. Instead of adding salt, use spices, pepper, lemon juice and herbs to flavor foods.
(ii) Restrict consumption of processed or canned foods.
(iii) Avoid cured meats such as ham, bacon, corned beef, sausages, luncheon meats, burgers, black and white pudding, meat pies, pate as well as smoked fish.
(iv) Avoid snack foods such as salted biscuits, crisps, potato chips and nuts.
(v) Keep away from foods high in salt like sauces (such as soy sauce), packet and tinned soups, instant noodles, Bovril, Oxo, Marmite, stock cubes, soy sauce, garlic salt and sea salt.
Choose Heart-Healthy Fats
We all need some fat in the diet but it is a case of choosing the right type and right amount.
Limit your intake of foods containing saturated fats and trans fats. They should only be eaten very occasionally.
(i) Saturated fat or animal fat can raise your cholesterol level, which can lead to higher risk of heart disease. Saturated fat is found in butter, hard margarine, lard, cream, cream based sauces, fat on meat, skin on chicken, and processed meats like sausages, burgers, black and white pudding, meat pies and pate. It is also found in biscuits, cakes, pies, pastries, chocolate, toffees, takeaway foods, foods covered in batter and breadcrumbs as well as milk, cheese and yoghurt.
(ii) Trans fat or hydrogenated vegetable fat also elevates cholesterol levels. Trans fat is found in hard margarine, cakes, biscuits and confectionery. It may be listed as hydrogenated fat on food labels and should be avoided.
Tip: If you’re fond of sweets, make sure to make it partly nutritious and keep away from high sugar and saturated fat foods, or those containing trans fats. Choose fresh fruits with reduced fat yoghurt for sweetness and flavour, and consider wholegrain and/or oat-based options for crumbles or cakes.
Prefer foods containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
(i) Monounsaturated Fat: Try to replace saturated fat with monounsaturated fat to help protect your heart as it helps lower cholesterol level. Monounsaturated fat is found in olive oil, peanut oil and rapeseed oil, unsalted peanuts, cashew nuts and almonds.
(ii) Polyunsaturated Fat: It’s another good fat that helps in lowering cholesterol levels. It’s found in oily fish (omega-3 fat), sunflower oil (omega-6 fat), sesame oil, flaxseed oil, walnuts and hazelnuts.
Note: Keep in mind all kinds of fats and oils contain fat and calories, so they result into weight gain if eaten in excess!
Stay Hydrated – Drink More Water
Water supports many vital functions to work efficiently in your body, including hydration, digestion and blood volume. But as you age you may not feel thirsty as often, even though your body need fluid. Drink plenty of water. As a general guide, about 7-8 glasses a day should be adequate and more in warmer weather or if you’re exercising.
Note: Soda water, fresh juice, reduced fat milk, tea, coffee etc., all count towards your fluid intake during the day, but water is always best!
Special Nutrition Needs For Elderly
Fiber To Prevent Constipation
Include foods in your diet that are high in fibre. Fibre helps bowels move regularly, reducing the risk of constipation. A fiber-rich diet can also lower the risk for many chronic conditions including heart disease, obesity and some cancers.
Good sources of fiber include:
(i) Breakfast wholegrain cereals such as porridge, weetabix, shredded wheat, bran flakes.
(ii) 100% whole meal or wholegrain bread.
(iii) Fruits, dried fruits and vegetables. Potatoes eaten in their jackets.
(iv) Died peas, beans and lentils.
Older adults need extra calcium and vitamin D to help maintain bone health. Healthy weight also help in keeping your bones strong.
Calcium: Dairy products such as milk and milk products like yogurt and cheese are high in calcium. In order to maintain your bones healthy, you should consume three servings of low-fat dairy foods every day. Dairy foods fortified with calcium and vitamin D are even better. Fish with soft, edible bones, such as canned salmon or sardines, are also good sources of calcium.
If your diet doesn’t include dairy products, it’s most likely to contain much less calcium than the recommended amount, so we recommend that you see a doctor or practicing dietitian to ascertain foods, drinks or supplements to fulfill your nutritional requirements. Calcium-rich foods include fortified cereals, dark green leafy vegetables and canned fish with soft bones (like sardines).
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is also necessary to help build and maintain stronger bones. The sun is best source of vitamin D. You only have to spend a short period of time, about 20 minutes in the sunshine every day to help your body obtain the needed daily doze of vitamin D.
People who have been advised to avoid the sun (like those with previous skin cancers) or those who are unable to get sun shine, can get some vitamin D from foods such as egg yolk, butter, table margarine, whole milk, yoghurt, cheese, malted milk, lamb’s fry, liver, tuna, sardines or a supplement. You may also consult your doctor or a good Practicing Dietitian to discuss your personal needs and options.
Arthritis And Osteoporosis
Arthritis and osteoporosis occur due to decline in bone density, which raises the risk of fractures. It usually affects elderly, especially women after menopause. Fractures of the hip, leg and wrist are common amongst the older adults.
Once calcium is lost from the bones it is difficult to replenish. However, there are ways to protect you from the progression of the disease, including getting enough calcium, fluoride and vitamin D, and exercise.
Including a variety of healthy foods in your diet is the best way to control arthritis and osteoporosis, and to help maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can exacerbate pain in weight-bearing joints such as hips, knees and ankles.
Fish oils can provide some benefit for rheumatoid arthritis; so eat fish at least two times in a week.
Tip: Weight-bearing exercise including walking or using lightweights improve bone health.
Iron and Vitamin B12
Iron helps carrying oxygen all throughout your body, while vitamin B12 maintains your brain and nervous system healthy. Many elderly do not get enough of these vital nutrients in their diet.
Iron and vitamin B12 can be found in a variety of common foods. Some fish seafood and eggs contain both these nutrients. Grains that are high in iron such as breads, pastas and rice often have added vitamin B12. Egg yolks contain both iron and B12 vitamins, as do various nuts such as almonds and peanuts. Brewer’s yeast is a commonly used source of iron and B12 by vegetarians. Soy-based products such as vegetarian burgers and tofu often are fortified with additional vitamin B12, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Additionally, singularly effective sources of iron include dried fruit, prune juice, peas and lentils. (Source)
Taking a vitamin C-rich food like orange juice at mealtime can help your body to absorb iron. Talk to your doctor or dietitian whether you need an iron or a vitamin B12 supplement.
Some Useful Tips For Elderly To Help Stay Well Into Older Age
(i) For living an active life and maintaining independence into your older age, we recommend that you combine an active lifestyle with a healthy diet. The more active you are, the more food you need – meaning you will be more likely to meet the nutrition needs.
(ii) Avoid eating foods high in ‘empty calories’ such as biscuits, cakes, savory snacks, sweets, and confectionary. These foods are rich in calories, fat, sugar and salt, so make sure – not too much and not too often.
(iii) Fruits & vegetables are rich source of vital nutrients to help you stay fit. Try to have about 5 servings of them every day. Have a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables every day like apples, oranges, bananas, spinach, cabbage, carrots, sweet potato, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and sweet corn.
(iv) You lose muscle as you age. To prevent muscle or slow down muscle loss, you should exercise and eat foods each day that are rich in protein. Great sources of protein include lean meat, poultry and fish. Eating beans, eggs and nuts is a simple way of including protein in your diet.