The Importance Of A Healthy And Balanced Diet For Older Adults (Updated)
We know that following a healthy and balanced diet is good for us throughout our life. But what exactly does this mean as we get older?
This guide outlines what nutrition our bodies require as we age, why this is, and how we can easily achieve this. Whilst this post is focused on older adults, it’s good advice to have and follow during our adult life. The better our diet now, the better our likelihood of healthy ageing!
- The Importance Of A Healthy And Balanced Diet For Older Adults (Updated)
- Why Diet Helps Us Age Healthily
- What To Include On Your Plate
- Protein Drives Muscle Strength
- Calcium And Vitamin D Go Hand In Hand
- Feast On Fibre
- Seasonal Fruit And Veg Is The Winner
- Lack Of Appetite And Healthy Eating For Seniors
- Food Delivery Services Are Convenient
- Keep Up Your Water Intake
- Condition Specific Diets
- Healthy Eating Is About More Than Just Food
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why Diet Helps Us Age Healthily
As we get older what we eat becomes even more important. The food choices we make can lead to better bones, mental acuteness, resistance to disease, weight management and more.
And it’s not just the physical effects. Nourishing ourselves from within with wholesome ingredients can benefit wellbeing, making us feel better and emotionally stronger.
This all sounds great, so let’s take a look at nutritional needs for the elderly.
What To Include On Your Plate
The main thing to remember here is that including a wide range of foods in your diet helps to ensure seniors get all of the nutrients their body needs.
There are five food groups:
1. Protein (e.g. meat, fish, eggs)
2. Dairy or dairy alternatives (e.g. cheese, milk, yoghurt)
3. Starchy carbohydrates (e.g. bread, pasta, rice)
4. Fruit and vegetables (choose seasonal for the best taste and lowest number of air miles!)
5. Fats and oils (choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat in small amounts)
We need to eat different quantities of each group to stay healthy (for example, we should eat more protein than fats!).
You don’t have to figure this out yourself. The authoritative Eatwell Guide indicates how much of each food group we should eat to follow a healthy, balanced diet.
It might not be realistic to include something from every food group in each meal, but a good guide is aiming for this over a day or even a week.
Protein Drives Muscle Strength
Protein helps to build bones, muscle and skin. As we get older, we lose muscle mass and our bones get weaker so we need to increase our protein intake.
The best sources of natural protein are from animal products – meat, fish and eggs – as they have all essential amino acids.
Plant sources, such as grains and green vegetables (e.g. broccoli) are good sources but lack some amino acids so you shouldn’t just rely on them. This is also why having a mixed and varied diet is key.
You may have seen lots of protein-fortified foods in the supermarkets – everything from yoghurts to cheese, peanut butter and even chocolate bars (yes, Snickers are now available in added protein. This isn’t that surprising given one of their main ingredients – peanuts – are naturally high in protein). These are a good additional way to bulk up your protein intake.
More protein can lead to stronger bones. Which can help if you’re susceptible to falling over. Read more about preventing falls in our guide here.
Calcium And Vitamin D Go Hand In Hand
Calcium keeps our bones strong, but we need to have vitamin D for our bodies to absorb the calcium. Natural vitamin D comes from the sun. As the elderly can have decreased mobility, they’re less able to go outside and have adequate exposure to the sun, so are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Plus, as we age, the skin is also less efficient at manufacturing vitamin D.
Help is at hand with a vitamin D supplement. It doesn’t need to be taken at the same time as your calcium-rich food, but will help absorption.
Feast On Fibre
We need fibre for regular bowel movements but it has other benefits too. Consuming enough dietary fibre can lower your risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease and help you manage your weight as it makes you feel fuller for longer.
If you want to know which foods are high in fibre, then reach for wholegrain breads, pasta, rice and other starchy carbohydrates. Like protein, foods are also now fortified with fibre – so if you love white bread, try one with added fibre!
Seasonal Fruit And Veg Is The Winner
Eating in season will guarantee you a varied diet rich in colour and nutrients and help with budgeting too. Break out the stone fruits and berries in spring and summer, and opt for apples and pears in the colder months.
If any fruit is too hard to eat raw, stew it down with some water, cinnamon and honey and add to porridge. For veggies, opt for protein-rich leafy greens, carrots, peppers and tomatoes. Bulk out a meat stew with aubergine and butternut squash which you can find pre-chopped at the supermarket. We also like frozen fruit and veg for when you need a quick solution. It’s also budget-friendly too.
Lack Of Appetite And Healthy Eating For Seniors
Our appetite slows as we get older, so we need to be smart with what we’re eating to ensure we have nutrient boosting mouthfuls.
Add calories (from the right type of foods, remember the Eatwell Guide!). Try adding grated cheese to mash or a tin of tuna or pulses to soups. If chewing becomes difficult then change meals for foods that are easier to swallow.
Simple swaps like toast for porridge (those hard crusts can prove problematic), opting for nutrient-rich soups and warming stews. It might be that red meat becomes too much, but other meats and fish are easier to swallow and digest.
The gut also becomes less efficient at absorbing nutrients, so we need to be aware of deficiencies and weight loss. If you notice a loved one is losing weight, speak to them about this. Left untreated, it could mean decreased mobility, strength and longer term problems.
Food Delivery Services Are Convenient
Healthy home delivery services are convenient and, especially during times of self isolation, mean that over 70s do not need to leave their home. We like Cook and Wiltshire Farm Foods for ready cooked meals that are nutritious and delicious. Supermarket deliveries can bring ingredients direct to your door (although we understand spaces are limited at the moment). It could also be worth speaking with the local greengrocer, butcher or farm to see what they can deliver. It’s not always more expensive than the supermarket and can be more nutritious. Or, speak with a friendly neighbour and see if they would be willing to help you out.
Keep Up Your Water Intake
Dehydration can be a concern amongst the elderly as feelings of thirst may not be as sharp and recognised. Water can help people feel alert.
Dehydration can lead to falls, confusion, urinary tract infections (which can have similar symptoms to dementia) and constipation. Try to avoid this and remember to sip water regularly, especially with every meal to help the food go down.
Condition Specific Diets
Health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease can leave people requiring restricted diets and being uncertain around what food is best for them. Speaking with a dietitian or expert can help. If this isn’t an option, focus on a mixed and varied healthy diet.
Other health issues such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia or stroke can leave people requiring a texture modified diet. These focus on softer, minced or pureed foods that make eating easier.
Healthy Eating Is About More Than Just Food
Eating well improves your mental wellbeing too. Making a meal of it – taking the time to cook and sit down to savour the taste can help break up the day and make a celebration of the meal time. Whether you’re alone, with one person or plenty in a residential home, meals can signify a part of your day when you can take time out to nourish your body and soul.
We hope this has helped to explain the importance of a healthy and balanced diet for older adults. As we get older, our nutritional needs change. It’s important to listen to our bodies and nourish them from within for optimum physical and mental wellbeing.
At ElWell, we know that a healthy diet is important as you get older. We offer one-to-one nutrition sessions with our resident dietitian, which can take place over the phone, video call or in person (once self isolation is over). Find out more here.
Frequently Asked Questions
As we get older what we wat becomes even more important. The food choices we make can lead to better bones, mental acuteness, resistance to disease, weight management and more. And it’s not just the physical effects. Nourishing ourselves from within with wholesome ingredients can benefit wellbeing, making us feel better and emotionally stronger.
Protein helps to build bones, muscle and skin. As we get older, we lose muscle mass and our bones get weaker so we need to increase our protein intake. The best sources of natural protein are from animal products (meat, eggs, fish) as they have all essential amino acids. Plant sources such as grains and green vegetables (e.g. broccoli) are good sources too but lack some amino acids so don’t just rely on them. This is also why having a mixed and varied diet is key.
Fortified foods for example adding protein or fibre can be a good way of increasing nutrients in an elderly person’s diet. There are lots of options of ready made fortified foods in the supermarket (such as yoghurt and bread) but you can also do this for yourself. Grate cheese into mash for extra calcium or add a tin of tuna to soup to boost the protein value.