The 60 plus age group is particularly diverse in terms of dietary considerations as many will be fit and active whilst others will be more frail. But, very broadly, as we age physical activity will decline and therefore maintaining a normal healthy weight can be a problem. For some particularly with the onset of disease, under nutrition may be a threat especially if appetite declines. In general however a healthy diet is still really important and can be achieved by following the principles and proportions of the Eat Well plate.
With time as activity decreases it is important to ensure that the foods which are eaten are nutrient dense so that a healthy weight can be maintained without having inadequate vitamins and minerals. This may mean substituting a cake with a cup of tea with some dried fruit, or having vegetable soup and bread instead of sausage, egg and chips, for example.
For some people with smaller appetites, who may find it difficult to keep weight on, eating little and often can be an important strategy.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important at all ages, but can be more difficult with increasing age. Overweight and obesity can lead to other health complications, and being underweight brings its own health issues.
The information below relates to older people in good health. Certain medical conditions may need specific advice from a qualified health practioner or dietician.
Fibre is a term used for all the unabsorbed food that passes through the digestive tract. But just because it’s not absorbed it is still important. Many people in this older age group suffer from constipation and bowel problems. Fibre in the diet is vital for good gut health and healthy bowel movements. Research evidence informs us that the majority of adults in the UK do not consume enough fibre in their diets and that intakes should be increased by as much as 25% in order to meet recommended levels. To increase fibre in the diet a greater range of wholegrain foods such as bread, pasta, and cereals can be eaten, as well as ensuring at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Simultaneously an increase in fluids is needed to help the passage of fibre through the body.
Many adults in the UK consume more salt than the recommended 6g per day. Too much salt in the diet increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and osteoporosis.
It is advisable to reduce the amount of salt during cooking and at the table. By doing this gradually, the effect on taste will be less noticeable, so that eventually no salt need be added. There is plenty of salt in the foods we eat. Even milk contains some, and many higher salt foods such as savoury snacks, bacon, ham and other preserved meats and fish have undergone reformulation to decrease their salt content.
By being aware of what you eat and looking at food labels it is possible to eat a diet which provides enough but not too much salt. Additionally eating more fruit and vegetables provides essential potassium which helps counterbalance (the sodium from) salt, so increasing the number of portions eaten a day is a good idea too.
Iron in our body helps to keep red blood cells healthy and enables oxygen to be carried effectively and efficiently around our bodies. A lack of iron can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia which can cause symptoms such as tiredness, fatigue and poor concentration.
Iron comes in two forms. The best form of iron is found in meat and fish, particularly red meat. This form of iron is easily absorbed by the body. The second form of iron is found in plant foods such as green vegetables and bread. This sort of iron is not as easily absorbed by the body. However vitamin C rich foods (e.g. citrus fruit, tomatoes, peppers, pineapple, strawberries, and unsweetened fruit juices) can help increase absorption so it’s a good idea to include some of these at each meal. For example, a small glass of orange juice at breakfast helps to absorb iron from cereal or toast. Tea and coffee have the opposite effect in reducing iron absorption so it is best to wait for 30 minutes after a meal before drinking these. Read more about iron
Calcium and Vitamin D
These two nutrients are really important as we get older because they help maintain bone. For women after the menopause the protective effect of oestrogen diminishes and the rate of calcium loss from bone increases.
Vitamin D and calcium work together. Most vitamin D is made through the action of sunlight on the skin and for many older people this does not provide sufficient. Additionally very few foods contain vitamin D so a dietary supplement of 10mcg per day is recommended.
It is important to ensure that adequate calcium is consumed. Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt, or fortified soya alternatives should be eaten every day. Other good sources are canned fish such as sardines as the small bones are also eaten. Green leafy vegetables, white bread, dried apricots, almonds and sesame seeds also provide calcium.
It is recommended that an average adult should consume around 6-8 glasses of water per day. However this amount needs to be increased if the weather is particularly hot or during and after periods of physical activity in order to avoid dehydration. Drinking plain water is the most effective and cheapest way of replacing lost fluids from the body, although low calorie drinks, fruit juices, reduced fat milks, and moderate amounts of tea and coffee are also fine.