Healthy eating for older people

Stacey King

Our bodies change as we age and it is important to stick to healthy eating habits - with certain foods becoming particularly important.

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Stay balanced
Sticking to an overall healthy and balanced diet is important as you get older, so remember to eat your five-a-day of fruit and vegetables.

Plenty of bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods are advised, choose wholegrain varieties where possible, along with some milk and dairy foods and some meat, fish and other proteins. Two portions of oily fish a week are recommended.

Sugar and fat
Only small quantities of sugar and fat are deemed healthy - just like for everybody else - but with an important caveat.

Older people can often become very frail and thin, and in these circumstances can sometimes be advised to increase sugar and fat consumption in order to increase bodyweight.

We already mentioned wholegrain carbohydrates, but it's worth making an effort to include other sources of fibre in your diet - such as potatoes, oats, beans, peas, lentils, fruit and vegetables.

This is because constipation can become more of an issue as our bodies age, and fibre-rich foods can help prevent this and other digestive problems. According to the NHS, it is best NOT to sprinkle raw bran on cereal, because it can impede the absorption of other nutrients.

Iron is a part of any healthy diet, but anaemia becomes more common in older people so it's worth making sure you're getting enough in your diet.

Red meat is the most obvious place to get iron, but it is also found in pulses (such as peas, beans and lentils), oily fish such as sardines, eggs, bread, green vegetables and breakfast cereals with added vitamins.

NHS advice is to limit red meat intake to around 70g per day.

Osteoporosis is a major concern for the elderly, particularly women - and consuming more calcium has been demonstrated to help prevent the condition.

Milk, cheese and yoghurt are all good sources - with lower-fat varieties particularly recommended.

Less salt
Too much salt can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes, which older people are at more risk of. Limit how much salt you add to meals - try adding herbs or spices to add flavour instead.

Check readymade meals, whether chilled, frozen or tinned, for salt content - because these can be the worst offenders.

Vitamin D is usually absorbed from sunlight, but getting some through food (such as eggs, oily fish or fortified cereal/spread) can be a good idea as you age.

Too much vitamin A can increase risk of bone fractures, so do not eat liver or pate more than once a week.

Stay hydrated
Aim to drink around 1.2 litres (two-and-a-half pints) of fluid a day, which can be comprised of any non-alcoholic drinks such as water, cordials and herbal teas. This will need to be increased in hot weather.

Finally, remember that a healthy diet is a varied diet. Opt for colourful fruit and vegetables and try new foods and dishes now and then. If you're concerned that you're not getting the right balance of vitamins and minerals you could consider taking a multi-vitamin supplement for older people.