There is so much nutritional advice around it can be difficult to know exactly what you should and shouldn’t be eating. Older people suffer disproportionately from malnutrition, with some studies suggesting that, combined with vitamin and mineral deficiencies, up to 35% of over 65s could be affected. There are many reasons for this ranging from reduced appetite to difficulty preparing varied and nutritious meals. Obesity is also a growing issue amongst the elderly, largely caused by poor diet in earlier life. This is potentially compounded by a falling metabolic rate and a reduction in calorie consumption from physical activity as people age. In addition to malnutrition and obesity, a number of ailments common in the elderly can be caused in part by issues with diet.
Top ten tips for ensuring you are eating (and drinking) with your well-being in mind.
- Cut down on the Salt.
- Eat Oily Fish.
- Try eating Fortified Cereals.
- Eat food high in potassium such as spinach, avocado and sweet potato.
- Eat plenty of different fruit and vegetables.
- Eat the right fats.
- Eat foods rich in calcium such as leafy greens.
- Ensure you are getting enough Vitamin K.
- Drink more water.
As simple as it sounds, one of the most important and easiest ways to improve a diet is to add variety. Eating the same meals, or only a limited selection of foods, can have a number of detrimental effects on your health, and according to the World Health Organisation contributes to a lower food intake. Appetite naturally reduces with age and it can be easy to get into a pattern of eating the same things, which reduces enthusiasm for food. Our sense of taste and smell can also alter or diminish over time, making the same old meals less enticing. Try new foods, recipes and more exotic dishes to make meal times more enjoyable. It is also a great way to ensure you get a wide variety of vitamins and micro nutrients.
The modern diet is particularly high in salt, with many people adding it during cooking or at the table to flavour food. One of our key tips is to try using different herbs and spices to season food as a way cut down on your salt intake. High salt diets are a major risk factor for Cardiovascular Disease which is the main cause of mortality amongst the elderly. Lowering the amount of salt you eat can also help combat high blood pressure and reduce the risk of cognitive decline or strokes.
3. Oily Fish
Oily fish, such as mackerel or salmon, have a number of health benefits for people of all ages, and are especially recommended for the elderly. Consumption of 1-2 portions a week has been linked to a decreased risk of dementia and cardiovascular issues. Oily fish are also a tasty source of Omega-3 fatty acids, an important polyunsaturated fat that the body is less efficient at making as it gets older. Vitamin D is another great benefit of the fish, particularly as our ability to synthesis this vitamin declines with age.
4. Fortified Cereals
Fortified cereals are a great way to add vitamins and other micronutrients to your diet. Many popular cereal brands fortify their cereals with Vitamin D and Vitamin b12 and iron. This could be particularly beneficial to older people who are living a meat free lifestyle and cannot get Vitamin D from oily fish or red meat. There are even some gluten free fortified cereals available. We recommend checking the packaging of your favourite varieties to make sure you can make the best choice for yourself.
Potassium is an essential mineral that the body uses in multiple ways. A high potassium diet helps keep blood pressure low, reduces the risk of strokes and maintains bone density. It is also important for maintaining muscle strength. Low potassium level can lead to a number of health issues including digestive problems, fatigue and irregular heartbeat. Other great sources of potassium include leafy greens, fruits such bananas or pineapples, wild salmon and lean meats.
6. Eat Plenty of Fruit and Vegetables (5 a day)
If there is one piece of nutritional advice we have all heard it is that we should eat our five a day. Whilst the message has changed over the years, it remains one of the easiest ways to improve health and well-being regardless of age. The World Health Organisation suggest that increasing the amount we eat by just one or two portions a day could cut cardiovascular risk by almost a third. Eating a variety of different fruit and vegetables is the best way to make sure you are getting many of the micronutrients you need. Current advice suggests our daily portions should be different colours where possible as this is an indicator of the vitamin and minerals in the portion.
7. Eat the Right Fats
Fat is a necessary part of our diet, but it is important to eat the right ones. Saturated and Trans fats are generally unhealthy, particularly in large amounts. Saturated fats are primarily found in food stuffs like processed meats, cheeses, cream and butter. Trans fats are prevalent in take away food, cakes and many fried foods. Diets high in saturates and trans fats are a major contributor to Cardiovascular Disease and high cholesterol amongst other ailments. Where possible try to replace these fats in your diet with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These can be found in oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocados.
8. Eat Calcium Rich Foods
Calcium is one of the most important minerals in the body. The vast majority of calcium is used for maintaining bones and teeth, but it also plays a role in the cardiovascular system. For the elderly it is particularly important as a lack of calcium can contribute to osteoporosis, which can lead to falls and fractures. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or are at risk of falls for any reason you should consider subscribing to the Helpline pendant alarm service. In the event of a fall, it is vitally important to get help fast. Click here for more information. Whilst dairy products can be a great source of calcium if consumed in moderation, there are also many alternatives that do not have the same saturated fat content. Broccoli, cabbage, soya beans as well as many nuts are good sources of calcium. It can also be found in tofu and some breads.
9. Ensure You are Getting Enough Vitamin K
Low Vitamin K intake has been associated with low bone density and an increased risk of fractures, particularly in the elderly who are more likely to take a fall. It is also important for healing wounds and ensuring that blood clots properly. It may also help reduce the risk of type two diabetes. Cereal grains are a good source of Vitamin K, as are asparagus and green beans. Eggs and meat also contain a smaller amount.
10 Drink More Water, Stay Hydrated
Elderly people are particularly at risk of dehydration due to an average lower water intake than younger persons. Our sense of thirst reduces in old age and continues to decline thereafter. Whilst we may not always feel we need it, It is important to continue to drink around six to eight glasses of water a day (about 1.2 litres), especially given the reduced kidney function that comes with age. One of the best ways to ensure you remember to drink enough is to have at least one whole glass with each meal and drink the rest spaced throughout the remainder of the day.
Check our blog often as we release more information and practical tips on caring for our elderly. If you have an elderly family member or friend who would benefit from the peace of mind gained from having a panic alarm for the elderly then check out our guide to the best personal alarm for the elderly, help! at the press of a button.