Healthy eating and good nutrition is an essential part of overall health and wellness, but the aging process offers new health challenges and considerations. While aging is a normal biological process, it does involve some decline in physiological function and is affected by factors such as genetics, illnesses, socioeconomics, and lifestyle.
As we age, we have a greater risk for developing lifestyle related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and osteoporosis, and we experience new heath challenges such as stiff joints, difficulties with digestion, kidney problems, sensory losses of taste and smell (which can impact on appetite and nutrient intake), declines in neurological function and menopause. Body fat percentage increases while muscle mass decreases and we have a greater chance of gaining extra weight if we don’t manage our energy intake and increased risk of falls related to loss of muscle mass, strength and function.
While good nutrition is essential at every stage in life, as you get older it is even more important to understand and plan for your changing needs. A healthy, balanced, nutrient rich diet can positively affect both mind and body, thereby reducing your risk of developing chronic diseases, assisting with weight management and helping you to avoid many of the discomforts associated with getting older.
Key nutritional and lifestyle tips to promote health
Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight by maintaining kilojoule (energy) balance
- Manage energy intake by choosing fresh, wholesome foods, limit intake of sugars, refined foods andconvenience/fast foods and control portion sizes of foods and beverages consumed.
- Increase energy expenditureby engaging in regular physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviour. Try to include muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days per week. This will assist in reducing declines in muscle mass.
Eat regular meals with small healthy snacks in between; this will assist in improved energy and appetite control.
Include a variety of foods in order to improve overall nutrient intake.
- Aim to meet nutrient intake predominantly through intake from food and use supplements or fortified foods to replace gaps in the diet.
Focus on consuming nutrient dense foods and beverages such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, low fat dairy products, seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds.
Include whole-grain and high fibre carbohydrates (such as oats, bran cereals, health and rye breads and crackers, sweet potatoes, mealies, brown rice and quinoa) in conjunction with plenty of water to help to keep the digestive tract health and prevent constipation. Aim to consume half your grain intake as whole grains.
Consume fish, especially fatty fish, at least twice per week. Fatty fish, such as salmon, pilchards, sardines, mackerel, rainbow trout and herring, contain omega 3 fatty acids which have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, improving joint pain and flexibility and may protect against dementia, Alzheimer’s disease as well as cardiovascular disease.
Aim to include 5 or more servings of fresh fruit and vegetables into your diet daily. These are rich in nutrients and fibre. Incorporate different colours especially dark green and red/orange. Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of loss of vision in adults over 65 years of age. Lutein and zeaxanthin found in fruit and vegetables may assist in preventing and delaying development of AMD.
Ensure a sufficient vitamin B12 intakethrough consumption of fortified foods and lean sources of animal protein, as the ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases as we age. Vitamin B12 is necessary for the synthesis of red blood cells and maintenance of the nervous system.
Include calcium rich foods to meet calcium requirements. Calcium is important for strong bones and teeth and helps to reduce risk of osteoporosis, colon cancer and high blood pressure. Sources include dairy products, fatty fish with soft bones, green leafy vegetables and almonds. If your calcium intake is insufficient, a calcium supplement is recommended.
Aim to get enough vitamin D through safe sun exposure, where possible, or through fortified foods or supplements, as vitamin D helps to maintain thickness of the skin and is needed for the absorption of calcium and for the functioning of calcium in the body.
To decrease the risk of bacterial infection, avoid high risk foods such as unpasteurized milk (or any products made from unpasteurized milk) and raw or under-cooked or raw eggs, poultry, meat, fish or shellfish which may contain harmful bacteria.
For more information and nutritional tips or an individualised plan contact a registered dietitian.