Nutrition & Health In Your Later Years: A Guide To Healthy Ageing
As we age, our nutritional needs change. Knowing what these changes are, as well as the necessary nutrients to include in your diet, can help you to stay healthy during your later years.
It can be difficult to understand or change your diet later in life, especially if illness, injury or mobility issues interfere.
Ultimately, a healthy diet isn’t that different when you’re 65 as it was when you were 25, but it’s important to be aware of the increased nutrient needs that come with age.
Nutrition needs for older adults
Typical ageing is linked to a variety of changes in the body, such as muscle loss, thinner skin and a reduction in stomach acid. These changes can make some people prone to nutrient deficiencies, while others can affect the senses and quality of life.
Ageing also comes with a reduced need for calories, creating an unfortunate nutritional dilemma. Older adults need to get just as much, if not more, of some nutrients, all while eating fewer calories. Fortunately, a varied diet of whole foods can help you meet your nutrient needs. Many older adults will also use supplements to support their increased nutrient needs to prevent malnutrition.
Another issue you may experience as you age is a reduction in your body’s ability to recognise vital signals of hunger and thirst. This can leave you prone to dehydration and unintentional weight loss.
Common nutritional health problems in older adults
As you age, your daily calorie intake can change. While this can depend on your weight, height, muscle mass and activity levels, you may need fewer calories to maintain your current weight as you get older.
If you try to retain the same daily calorie intake you had when you were younger, it may lead to ill health. However, as you age you still need the same level of nutrients in your diet, such as protein to support muscle mass and fibre to support the increased risk of constipation.
This is why it’s very important for older people to consume a varied diet consisting of whole foods, including:
- Fish and lean meats
- Healthy (unsaturated) fats
A balanced diet full of healthy staples can help you fight nutrient deficiencies, without expanding your waistline. In particular, avoid refined sugars filled with empty calories that offer no nutritional value.
Some additional nutritional considerations to note:
- Meeting increased calcium intake per day may be challenging
- A lack of vitamin D may be seen if you spend more time indoors
- Protein intake is often reduced. Higher protein foods are not eaten as often or in the proportion previously consumed e.g red meat
Ensuring a consistent intake of these nutrients can help support the body’s nutritional demands.
Common eating problems in older adults
There are a number of eating problems that can manifest as you age. These include:
Chewing difficulties caused by loosened teeth, ill-fitting dentures or a decreased secretion of saliva can make it difficult for you to properly chew your food during meal times.
This can be helped by choosing food with suitable, more easily breakable textures, such as oatmeal, noodles, tomatoes, spinach and bananas. Mincing meats and opting for less-thick dairy alternatives can also improve your ability to chew food properly.
Also consider cutting your food into smaller pieces by chopping or grinding, or try modifying food textures by pureeing with a blender and adding more sauces.
Seek advice from your healthcare professional to develop a suitable dietary plan to support your nutritional needs. If swallowing issues remain undiagnosed, this may compromise nutritional intake and pose a safety hazard.
As we get older, our digestive system can slow down and not work as efficiently to break down foods as it used to. This can lead to changes in bowel habits leading to constipation, diarrhoea, and in some cases, heartburn.
To tackle this, smaller, more frequent meals may be tolerated better than three large meals a day. Chewing slowly and thoroughly can help, as can minimising your intake of fatty or spicy foods.
Poor or reduced appetite
Having a reduced appetite as you get older can be expected — it is a natural physiological sign of ageing.
However, sometimes a poor appetite can have a significant impact on your health as you age. If you’re really not eating enough, it can cause you to feel weak and suffer from muscle loss and fatigue.
Poor appetite is most typically caused by physical discomforts, such as gastrointestinal conditions or ill-fitting dentures that make it difficult to eat. However, it can also be a side effect of medication or a sign of illness and poor emotional well-being.
If you are experiencing a reduced appetite, stick to small, frequent meals supplemented with nutrient-dense snacks such as bread with cheese/peanut butter or soups to re-build your appetite. Seasoning food properly can also make it more attractive and enjoyable to consume. Prepare foods that are nutrient-dense by adding minced meat, fish, tofu, egg, potato or legumes to noodles or soup.
Nutrition tips for older adults
Following common advice such as eating plenty of fruit and vegetables a day can significantly impact your wellbeing, but as you age your body may require additional nutrition to stay strong and healthy.
Here are some tips for ensuring you stay healthy as you age.
Consume enough liquid daily
As you age, your sense of thirst can begin to diminish.
To combat that, it’s suggested you drink at least 8 to 10 cups of water a day to ensure you’re properly hydrated. The key is to consume water with meals, even if you’re not feeling particularly thirsty or enjoying another drink. Outside of water, reduced-fat milk and natural juice may provide some hydration.
Plan and prep meals
Planning and pre-preparing your meals throughout the week ensures you always have a healthy, balanced meal you can quickly make, even if you’re feeling tired or weak.
Freezing meals is particularly helpful, as they can quickly be defrosted and heated up. This helps you stick to healthy eating habits and avoid turning to fast/junk food for quick satisfaction.
Season with herbs and spices rather than salt
Rather than seasoning your meals with salt and increasing your sodium intake, consider using fresh herbs and spices.
Cayenne pepper, sage, basil, turmeric and rosemary are particularly healthy choices that make common meals immediately flavourful.
Read nutrition labels
When shopping, ensure to always read packaged and canned food labels in detail.
Check the nutrition label for added fat, sodium and sugar, particularly on products advertised as healthy options, as these can have a negative impact on your weight, cholesterol and energy.
By the same token, follow recommended serving sizes on the packaging and online.
Opt for healthy fats
While cutting all fats out of your diet isn’t advised, eliminating trans and saturated fats can have a significant impact on your body’s ability to fight disease.
Examples of healthy fats include olive oil, nuts, avocado and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Consider nutritional supplements
Eating fruits and vegetables may be the best way to get the essential nutrients into your diet, but they’re not always a feasible option.
Illness, busy lifestyles and a lack of appetite can make it difficult to get your recommended daily nutrient intake. Nutritional supplements may offer a healthy alternative for introducing these essential nutrients into your diet.
Nutritional supplements from SUSTAGEN, such as SUSTAGEN Hospital Formula, are easy to prepare and consume and can help support your daily nutritional requirements.
A balanced diet full of nutrients can make a huge difference throughout your life, but is perhaps never more important than in old age.
Ensure you’re sticking to your recommended daily intake and consulting your doctor about any potential medical restrictions you may have when eating or drinking.
SUSTAGEN Hospital Formula is a formulated meal replacement and cannot be used as a total diet replacement. Consume as part of a varied and balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.