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The importance of elderly nutrition

Food is such an important part of the human experience, but it can be harder to continue enjoying food when your body doesn’t process what you enjoy the same way it did when you were younger.

Key Points:

  • Food consumption changes as you age

  • Inadequate nutrients can result in many different health issues and compromise your immune system

  • Eating nutrient rich food should increase as your food consumption decreases

Older woman in aged care having soup.
Good nutrition becomes more necessary as you age because it can have a big impact on your health, both physically and mentally. [Source: Shutterstock]

Good nutrition becomes more necessary as you age because it can impact your health, both mind and body, and also assists with staying independent and at home for longer.

Your body lets you know when it doesn’t agree with certain foods, or lets you know if you aren’t eating enough off something, so it’s important to ‘listen’ to your body and don’t ignore any symptoms that may appear.

​Food and your body

Taste and smell can decrease as we age, and to counterbalance that you need more flavourful or pleasant smelling food to increase our appetites.

If older people have a decrease in appetite or become unable to prepare their own foods, it can result in a huge loss in vitamins, minerals and proteins the body needs to stave off disease and illness.

Good nutrients can:

  • Reduce the risk of developing a lot of diseases and illnesses, 

  • Prevent the weakening of muscles and bones

  • Prevent chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, or osteoporosis.

Poor nutrition can:

  • Result in weight loss or weight gain 

  • Impact the security of your immune system, increasing the likelihood of catching a cold or other minor illnesses

  • Cause health conditions or exacerbate a pre-existing health problem

Since your immune system already weakens as we age, it’s important to put as many preventative measures in place as possible.

Changes in your diet for optimum nutrients

Food is also a huge source of fuel for the body, to keep moving and energised, it’s important to “fill the tank” with what your body needs.

As you age, your calorie intake will decrease. This can be a bit difficult because you still need to maintain the same amount of nutrients, if not increase them. Rather than eating three big meals a day you may need to adjust your eating habits and eat smaller portions more often.

Eating nutrient-rich foods could include:

  • Vegetables and fruits, 

  • Beans, lentils, nuts and seeds,

  • Low-fat dairy 

  • Lean meat

These types of foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fats that are vital to an ageing body.

Fibre is another essential for older people in maintaining a healthy digestive system. It is also beneficial to good cholesterol levels. 

Try to eat:

  • Fruits and vegetables

  • Beans, lentils, nuts and seeds 

  • Oats and whole grains

  • Protein with every meal

If you aren’t getting enough vitamins from your food, try adding specific supplements into your diet, recommended by a doctor, to help you get to the levels your body needs. 

But never substitute supplements for food, they should only be used to assist you. Supplements can also help if you are allergic to certain foods, but you need those vitamins in your diet.

Minimising salt intake and reducing processed food is important, something you would find in a lot of junk food. They usually have a lot of calories but no nutritional value.

Keeping hydrated is very important and vital to a healthy body. Depending on the weather or the amount of physical exertion you do, you may need to drink more, but the rule of thumb is to drink six glasses of water a day.

The best option to put together an action plan for keeping healthy as you age is to consult with your doctor or medical professional such as a nutritionist regularly.

Tell us in the comments below what foods you enjoy eating and how you could modify the recipe to improve your nutrients intake.

Related content:

Hydration for elderly people and the dangers of dehydration 
How to maintain and improve mobility and reduce falls
Dementia behaviour changes and challenges

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