As we age, eating a healthy diet is more important than ever.
Of course, healthy eating is important at every age, as it determines everything from bone health and healthy weight maintenance to energy levels and mental health resilience.
But older adults in particular, need to focus on healthy eating as a priority.
A healthy diet can help to prevent certain diseases from taking hold – things like high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers.
What are the benefits of healthy eating and a healthy diet for elderly people?
Persuading an older family member of the importance of keeping to a healthy weight and how to eat healthy foods is not always easy. But there are clear benefits for their health and wellbeing.
Consistently healthy meal choices for elderly adults contribute towards:
- Maintaining healthy bones.
- Avoiding or delaying weight gain.
- Taking in fewer calories and trans fats and therefore ensuring a healthy weight.
- Boosting energy levels in order to remain physically active.
- Protecting against the development of illnesses such as heart disease.
- Improving the functionality of organs.
- Promoting regular bowel movements.
- Building muscle mass – older people have a propensity to lose muscle mass.
Food intake tips for healthy bones in elderly people
Getting enough calcium is essential to maintain strong bones, particularly for elderly people. This can come from dairy products, such as yoghurt, cheese and milk.
However, it’s also important for elderly people remain in the healthy range when consuming saturated and trans fats, so it’s advisable to stick to low fat milk and low fat dairy, for example.
Different sources of calcium to include in an elderly person’s diet
There are other sources of calcium that have fewer calories than dairy, such as tinned fish with bones (think salmon or mackerel), soya beans and lentils, tofu and green leafy vegetables.
A healthcare professional would also advise elderly people to take a high quality Vitamin D supplement alongside plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Calcium rich foods should be eaten every day to boost the immune system and reach basic nutrition needs.
Why is vitamin D important for bones in the elderly?
Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium when we eat foods rich in this important mineral.
Here are some foods to include in an elderly person’s diet in order to get more Vitamin D from food groups, rather than from supplements, include the following throughout the day:
- Egg yolks.
- Nutritious snacks and dairy that are enriched with calcium. You can also find breakfast cereals that have extra vitamins and minerals included – check the labels for details.
- Oily fish such as salmon, herring and sardines.
When are elderly people likely to be deficient in Vit D?
It’s far easier than most people think to become deficient in this all-important vitamin.
And it’s particularly common for older adults over 65 years old who:
- Rarely partake in physical activity out of doors in the sunshine.
- Those that do stay active but cover up when in the sun.
- Choose foods that do not include oily fish or meat.
In these cases, the chances are that optimum nutritional needs are not being met and they are not getting enough vitamin D.
It’s always a good idea to check with a doctor who can recommend or prescribe suitable supplements if necessary.
Maintaining a healthy gut in the elderly
There are loads of reasons why people struggle to maintain a healthy gut and elderly people in particular may be plagued by constipation.
There are simple switches that anyone can make to reverse this:
- Eat plenty of smaller meals throughout the day.
- Ditch white bread, rice and pasta in favour of whole grains (such as brown rice, wholemeal bread, wholegrain cereals and whole wheat pasta).
- Eat at least five portions of fruits and vegetables every single day – not including fruit juice. Fresh fruit is incredibly important and it’s a food group that can usually be well tolerated even by those who are struggling to eat regularly or who are not in good health.
- Include nuts and seeds, peas, lentils and beans when you prepare food.
- Drink plenty of fluids – ideally around eight glasses. These don’t have to be water and can include any drinks aside from alcohol intake.
Appetite problems in older people
A common challenge when it comes to the nutritional needs of older people is that our appetite tends to get smaller.
This makes it more difficult to get the variety of foods we need t to combat health issues.
A dip in appetite levels is normal for elderly people, but there are ways to beef up the variety of foods they’re eating.
For example, if someone you are caring for is trying to limit foods and are not getting nutrition from the five food groups, suggest healthy snacks in place of full meals.
Switch from meals to healthy snacks
Healthy snacking can make a huge difference to the eating habits of older people who are simply struggling with the idea of too much food. And, foods presented in this way can incorporate all kinds of the nutrition they need.
Steer away from fried foods, saturated fats and foods too high in sugar and stick to an eating plan comprising less salt, lots of vegetables
Healthy eating ideas for elderly people
The kinds of small meals that cover important food groups, incorporate vegetables, leafy greens, lean meats and are low in fat include:
- Home-made soup presented in a small bowl with a wholemeal bread roll and butter (some saturated fat is necessary for satiety).
- Dried fruit of their choice with plain yoghurt.
- Baked beans on wholegrain toast along with some fresh vegetables, such as a small salad.
- Chopped raw vegetables with a dressing including lemon juice for vitamin C.
- Good quality, low sugar breakfast cereals with calcium enriched milk.
- Foods they particularly like – it’s important to make food enticing when people are struggling with a diminished appetite.
- Currant buns or fruit breads – comforting starch after physical activity is a particularly good food choice.
Nutritional foods are essential for a healthy weight and to prevent muscle loss in elderly people
Older people often find preparing food challenging, as they lose mobility. Or perhaps they’re living alone after a lifetime of cooking for a family.
There are ways to get help for elderly people who are no longer able to maintain a healthy eating regimen by themselves.
Preparing small meals covering all the foods necessary for health and wellbeing could be managed by a family member, home help or care assistant.
Whatever the method, it’s essential to ensure that the right foods are being ingested by older adults so that they can continue to live a full life for as long as possible.
Implementing a healthy diet for elderly people
If you are in any doubt as to how best to ensure your elderly relative or friend is eating the best possible diet, consult a health professional.
Following the tips in this blog will help the elderly person to boost their vitamin and mineral intake, which is essential to maintain healthy bones and gut health for as long as possible. It’s not always easy to persuade an elderly person to eat the right foods, but by using the information in this blog you can get off to a good start.
For more in-depth assistance check out the NHS advice on healthy eating in the elderly here