Are you 60 years or older, or nearing this age and wondering how to optimise your nutrition? Well, this one’s for you. Eating well is essential to healthy ageing. Continuing to choose healthy foods is important. However, as we get older our lifestyle, appetite and taste preference can change, in turn, affecting what and how much we can eat.
As we get older, we may not need as much energy (kilojoules) to function, because we are less active than when we were younger. However, the nutrient requirements remain the same, if not more. This means that the food we eat needs to be nutrient-dense while limiting discretionary foods high in sugar and fat as they are higher in kilojoules.
Ageing is best described as a process. Micronutrient (e.g. vitamins and minerals) deficiencies are associated with both physical and cognitive decline. In particular, vitamins D, C and B9 play important roles in promoting bone density and reducing inflammation. Furthermore, Vitamin B12 deficiencies place elderly populations at risk of both neurological and bone density problems. Essential dietary minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron and selenium also contribute to bone density and a functioning immune system, with protein malnutrition playing a role in the development of sarcopenia.
Maintaining a healthy weight can encourage you to be more active, help to better manage your health and generally enjoy your life more. The best way to do this is by eating a variety of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and lean meat (or plant-based alternatives). This also means limiting our portion sizes, and not frequenting your local café for a coffee and a slice of cake or a biscuit every day. However, it is important to note that carrying a little extra weight when you are over the age of 65 years is healthy and recommended but ensuring that if this is extra that it be from everyday foods that are nutrient-dense.
Too often then not as we get older we tend to eat less but not necessarily of the good stuff. We replace bread with crackers, eat less meat but also have a few more cakes, biscuits and meals out. This is what we find to be the biggest contributor to weight gain and as such trying for eating more of the good stuff.
Just like food is important for our body, water is also essential for good health and healthy ageing. Water supports many vital functions in the body, including hydration, digestion and blood volume. But how much of it do you need? This is hard to answer as fluid requirements are highly individualised. Although Australian dietary guidelines recommend approximately around 8 cups for women and 10 cups for men, this is only a rough guide.
The amount of fluid you need changes based on how active you are, muscle tone, age and health status. Reduced sense of thirst is a potential side-effect of ageing, which means that relying on your thirst is no longer a good option. Checking that the colour of your urine is clear to pale honey can help you check and troubleshoot your hydration.
Bones are classified as living tissue, which are generating new cells constantly. However, with ageing, the rate at which bones are replaced significantly slows. When too much bone is lost, and not replaced osteoporosis (or porous bones) occurs. This results in reduced bone mineral density, and therefore fragile bones which are easily prone to fractures. This is a significant global concern – one in three women and one in five men over 50 may suffer from a fracture caused by osteoporosis. Luckily, physical activity, sunshine and good nutrition can help prevent it from occurring.
Calcium is commonly known to be important for bones. As we age, our requirement for calcium increases. Dairy foods (milk, yoghurt, cheeses) are the most readily available sources of calcium in the diet. Additional food sources include certain green vegetables, whole canned fish with edible bones such as salmon and sardines, nuts and tofu set with calcium. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that women over 51 should consume four serves of dairy per day, while men aged 50–70 should consume two and a half, and men over 70 should have three and a half serves of dairy per day. If you’ve ever been prescribed a calcium supplement you may have noticed vitamin D is usually on the label too. That’s because it helps bones absorb the calcium in our intestines and ensures correct renewal and mineralisation of bone.
When the skin’s exposed to UV-B rays from sunlight it makes Vitamin D. Balancing the risk of skin cancer, with maintaining adequate vitamin D levels is important. Also due to an increase in indoor lifestyles, low levels of vitamin D has become a worldwide problem that can affect bone and muscle health. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are rich in Vitamin D. Additionally, mushrooms and egg yolks are some of the foods naturally rich in vitamin D. Some products such as margarine, breakfast cereals and orange juice are fortified with vitamin D to help boost our intake.
Protein provides the body with a source of essential amino acids important for both muscle and bone health. As we get older, muscle mass naturally declines and can cause sarcopenia—age-related loss of muscle mass, strength and function. This means that if we don’t get enough through what we eat, it can lead to reduced preservation of bone mass and reduced muscle mass and strengths which puts us at further risk of falls, illness and hospitalisation. Making sure you include a protein-rich food at main meals and snacks can help increase your protein intake. This includes dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, meat, fish, poultry, lentils, beans (including soy products) and nuts.
Although the human body requires some salt, too much can increase the risk of high blood pressure and contribute to heart disease. Foods such as meat, eggs, milk and vegetables naturally contain salt which can help meet the body’s requirements. However, salt added during the manufacturing process, the use of cooking and table salt contributes to excess salt intake. Therefore, it’s a good idea to limit high salt foods such as cured meats, e.g. ham, corned beef, and bacon. Also limiting savoury snack foods such as potato chips, salted nuts, and pastries is beneficial. Oh, and many sauces are sometimes foods as well. Additionally, choosing reduced salt or no added salt varieties when shopping and flavouring foods with herbs and spices instead of salt can also help.
Having a healthy diet, and an active lifestyle can help you maintain positive health as you age. Eating and drinking well, moving and socialising with friends and family are essential to healthy ageing.
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