Nutrition and the Elderly
Healthy eating is a vital lifestyle component for enjoying a happy, active long life. For seniors, the benefits of healthy eating include higher energy levels, a robust immune system, increased mental acuteness and improved management of chronic health problems. A balanced diet and physical activity contribute to a higher quality of life and enhanced independence.
Since many older people are not eating as much as they should the food must be as nutritious as possible. Try to eat unprocessed foods that are nutrient dense, such as foods containing healthy fats (nuts, nut butters, add oils to salads – such as olive oil, sunflower oil), fresh fruit and vegetables (frozen or canned vegetables are also an option), wholegrains (such as oats, rye/ multigrain bread, whole grain cereals), protein rich foods (meat, fish, chicken) dairy (yoghurt, milk, cheese) and legumes (for example, chickpea, lentils, baked beans).
As older people tend to have smaller meals they should organise several mini meals throughout the day to ensure adequate nutrient and calorie intake.
Older adults do not absorb naturally occurring vitamin B12 very well as the stomach produces less gastric acid. We need vitamin B12 to help keep our nerve cells and red blood cells healthy. Vitamin B12 occurs naturally only in animal foods such as meat, fish, poultry, seafood, egg and milk products.
Vitamin D is essential to absorbing calcium and is necessary for good bones. We get most of our Vitamin D through sun exposure and a few foods, such as fatty fish and egg yolk. With age, our skin is less efficient at synthesizing Vitamin D, so a supplement might be required.
Discuss the use of vitamin supplements with your GP or health care professional as certain vitamins can interact with medications.
Keep hydrated by drinking frequently. Aim to have about 1.5 to 2 litres of fluids per day (10 cups), including water, milk, fruit juice, coffee, tea, etc.
It is common for appetites to diminish as a person ages. A decline in the senses of taste and smell can affect an elderly person’s ability to enjoy food. To make the food more appealing and to assist in the stimulation of the taste and smell senses add spices, herbs, dressings and sauces.
If an elderly person lives alone they should organise a date with a friend for lunch or dinner to make their meals more enjoyable.