Eat well to age well

12 October 2021

Article

At every stage of life, it’s important to eat a healthy, balanced diet of foods that are nutritious and enjoyable.

But as we get older, things can change which may affect the amounts and types of foods we eat. For example, you may become less hungry, lose your ability to taste or smell properly, or find it harder to buy and prepare healthy foods. A lack of nourishment can lead to loss of strength, a weaker immune system or worsen some chronic conditions.

Below are some tips for maximising nutrition and enjoyment of food as we age.

Modify meals to suit your appetite

When you are less hungry, the thought of eating a full-sized meal may seem daunting. You can still get enough nourishment by eating smaller meals and including good basic foods as snacks in-between meals.

Snack suggestions include: a slice of bread with a protein filling such as cheese, hard boiled egg, tinned fish or cold meat, wholegrain dry biscuits with cheese, peanut butter or hummus, yoghurt, rice pudding, fresh, dried or canned fruit, unsalted nuts, vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, slices of tomato or baby cucumbers, or a hot or cold milk drink.

Shop smart and stock up when possible

Shopping for food can become more difficult as we get older. This may be due to living alone, mobility issues or reduced transport options.

If you’re not able to go shopping frequently, it’s a good idea to stock up on non-perishable items that you can have on hand to prepare a nutritious meal. These can include:

  • Canned fruit
  • Canned vegetables (reduced salt if possible)
  • Canned beans, chickpeas or lentils
  • Frozen fruits or vegetables
  • Rice, pasta, rolled oats and wholegrain breakfast cereals
  • Long-life milk (UHT or powdered)
  • Canned fish
  • Sauces and spreads (such as reduced salt soy sauce or peanut butter)
  • Healthy oils such as olive oil or canola oil

To reduce food preparation time, you can buy packets of pre-prepared fresh salads or packets of fresh/frozen vegetables, frozen fish or frozen meals. Most frozen meals don’t contain enough vegetables, so try to cook some extra fresh or frozen green vegetables to serve with them.

Enjoy some variety

Include a variety of flavours, colours and textures in your meals to keep your palate interested. Buy different foods from week to week so you have a wider range over several weeks.

Make your meals and snacks from a variety of delicious and nutritious foods every day. Use the following table as a guide and try to have close to these amounts most days.

Food groupMen 70+ YearsWomen 70+ Years
Vegetables and legumes/beans5 serves5 serves
Fruit2 serves2 serves
Bread, cereals, rice, pasta, barley, quinoa, crispbread4½ serves3 serves
Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, legumes/beans2½ serves2 serves
Milk, yoghurt, cheese, mostly reduced fat3½ serves4 serves
Drink mostly water, soda water, tea and milk drinks6-8 cups per day6-8 cups per day

You can find a copy of the full food guide and examples of what equals a serve here


Keep an eye on key nutrients

Consuming essential nutrients is important for people of all ages, but it’s especially important to get enough of certain nutrients as we get older.

Key nutrients include:

Protein – as we get older it’s important to include a protein food in each of our meals to help prevent loss of muscle strength.

For breakfast this might mean using milk, yoghurt, cheese or eggs. You could include baked beans, eggs, cheese, tinned fish, cold meat or lentil soup with lunch. At dinner you could include red meat, chicken or fish, or you could make an omelette or frittata with two eggs. Plant proteins are also an easy and healthy option, such as beans, chickpeas or lentils or tofu.

Iron and zinc – include small serves of lean red meat in your lunch or dinner to get enough iron and zinc.

Fibre – eating plenty of fibre helps to reduce constipation and ensure good gut health. Wholegrain cereals, wholemeal bread, fruit, dried fruit, vegetables, dried peas, beans and lentils are great sources of fibre.

Calcium – calcium helps to ensure good bone health and can reduce the risk of fractures caused by low bone density. Dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are high in calcium, and fish with soft, edible bones, such as canned salmon or sardines, are also good sources of calcium.

Vitamin D – vitamin D is also important in helping to build and maintain healthy bones. The sun is the best source of vitamin D (the Cancer Council website provides advice on safe levels of sun exposure). While foods provide some vitamin D, many of us have low levels and benefit from a supplement. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether a vitamin D supplement might be right for you.

Limit salt and unhealthy fats

Eating too much salt can increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. To reduce the amount of salt in your diet, eat more fresh foods and less processed foods. Eat less cured meats (including ham, bacon and deli meats), snack foods (such as potato chips) and commercial products (such as pizzas and meat pies.). Look for reduced salt varieties of foods when shopping. Use more fresh and dried herbs, spices, cracked pepper and flavoursome vegetables such as onion, garlic, celery and mushrooms rather than relying on salt for flavor. Use stock powder and commercial sauces sparingly as they are high in salt.

To keep cholesterol in check, it’s also important to limit foods that are high in saturated fats such as butter, cream, coconut, palm oil, pies, pastries, or fried foods. As an alternative, use margarines and oils made from sunflower, canola olive oil or other plant oils

Maintain healthy teeth and gums

To eat well and enjoy your food, it’s important to maintain healthy teeth and gums.

Dental issues such as missing teeth, sore gums and dentures that don’t fit properly can make it difficult to chew food, which might affect what and how much you eat.

Remember to get regular dental check-ups and ensure your dentures are adjusted correctly so that you can continue to enjoy a variety of foods and drinks without pain or restriction.

Visit our Dental page to find out more about our friendly and accessible dental services

For advice about maintaining a healthy diet, you can speak to a healthcare professional such as a doctor or Accredited Practising Dietitian. Find out more about our Dietetics services or call our team on 9430 9100.

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