Healthy eating for older adults
Healthy eating as we get older
Healthy eating is just as important for older adults as it is for everyone, and eating should be an enjoyable and sociable activity that we can look forward to, while still being a healthy one.
Unfortunately a number of older Australians have poor diets – often from not eating a variety of nutritious foods. When we don’t give our bodies the nutrients they need, our health can suffer.
Enjoy a variety of foods
Appetite can often decrease as we get older, so eating a variety of foods can help keep food interesting.
Eat foods that are high in nutrients from the five food groups pictured in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating including:
- plenty of vegetables, legumes (eg baked beans, kidney beans and chick peas) and fruit
- plenty of cereals, including breads, rice, pasta and noodles – preferably wholegrain
- lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives
- milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternative – choose low-fat varieties where possible.
Some foods, such as lollies, chocolates, soft drinks and cakes, do not fit into the food groups. These are not needed for our bodies, and should only be eaten every now-and-then or in small amounts.
Find out how many serves of each food group you need.
Drink plenty of water!
As we get older, we often don’t feel thirsty even when our body wants fluid.
We need to take regular drinks, which can include water and other drinks such as soda water, fruit juice and milk. Small amounts of tea and coffee can also be included.
Make small changes for good health
Choose foods that are high in fibre, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholegrain varieties of bread and cereals, to encourage good bowel health.
Be sure to eat protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, soybeans and nuts. Our need for protein increases when we reach our 70s – protein in the diet helps heal wounds, which can be important as older people often undergo more injuries and surgeries.
Enjoy foods high in calcium such as low-fat milk, cheese, custard and yoghurt to help prevent or slow the progression of osteoporosis. Calcium-enriched soy milk and fish with soft, edible bones such as canned salmon or sardines, are also good sources of calcium.
Vitamin D is also important in bone health for older adults. We mainly get Vitamin D from sunlight, and smaller amounts from foods including:
- dairy products
- oily fish
If you are mostly confined indoors and don’t get much exposure to sunlight, you should seek advice from a medical professional about Vitamin D supplements.
Limit the saturated fats you eat and keep an eye on your total fat intake.
Limit the use of salt and choose foods that are low in salt.
As the years go by, sadly our sense of taste can decrease. But rather than adding salt, have a look at other ways to add flavour to foods, such as with spices or fresh herbs.
Enjoy preparing and eating meals
Keep a well stocked pantry and freezer so that you can easily make healthy meals without having to head to the supermarket.
And whenever possible, try to share mealtimes with family and friends.
Eat to match your lifetyle
The amount and types of foods we eat can be affected by the changes to our lifestyle as we get older. These may include include:
- not having the energy or motivation to prepare food
- feeling lonely or anxious
- not feeling hungry
- having problems swallowing or chewing
- decreased sense of taste
- not being as physically active.
These often lead to skipping meals and generally eating poorly, so look at the following ideas to help you eat regularly.
Tips for eating regularly
Simple ideas to help us to eat regular meals include:
- eating meals at a similar time each day to build a routine
- using pre-made foods such as frozen vegetables, tinned fruit or ready-made meals (go for the low-salt and low-sugar varieties). These will take less time and energy to prepare
- eating small, regular meals rather than just a few bigger meals will help you get all the necessary nutrients without having to eat lots of food all at one time
- avoiding drinking with meals as this can fill you up and affect your appetite
- choosing moist or softer foods when you’re feeling tired means you don't have to use as much effort to chew and swallow
- adding herbs, spices and condiments (such as lemon juice) to meals adds flavour
- ask for help from friends, family or other community services such as meals on Wheels.
Is your eating on track?
To see how your diet compares with the Australian Dietary Guidelines, try this quiz from the Dietitians Association of Australia.
Hints and tips to make it easier
Keeping healthy and happy
Enjoying a healthy diet and staying active will help to keep us healthy as we age – just remember to eat well, keep moving, and call on friends and family whenever you need help along the way.