Nutrition for the elderly – what you need to know

Nutrition for the elderly – what you need to know

As we age, our bodies’ nutritional needs change. However, change doesn’t have to be bad, nor does it have to mean surviving on soft, bland food or boiled cabbage!

Everycare Winchester know to how to provide the best care for you, but when it comes to nutrition, do you know how to best care for your own needs? To help you move and look as young as you feel, we’ve listed below the essential components for a healthy diet (and we promise there isn’t a boiled cabbage in sight!)

Variety is vital  

The more variety in your diet, the healthier your gut flora will be. The health of your gut is paramount to your overall wellbeing, affecting everything from memory and mood to immunity and skin.

A great way to ensure you’re consuming an array of nutrients is to ‘eat the rainbow’. Sadly, we’re not talking about eating endless amounts of Skittles, but a rainbow spectrum of fruit and vegetables. Every colour provides a different health benefit, like orange vegetables are packed full of vitamin A which is great for eye sight, and purple hues provide potent antioxidants that fight ageing free-radicals.

Don’t be afraid to try new foods. We’re sure by now you know exactly what you like and what you don’t, but you’re never too old to try something new. You never know, you might discover a new favourite!

Pass the salt

As we age, we become more sensitive to salt, so a lower sodium intake can benefit those with high blood pressure; reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease.

Unfortunately, this may mean you need to pay extra attention to any packaged food you buy and the amount of salt you use to season your food. Most pre-packaged food already contains high levels of salts, so when you sprinkle on extra you’re likely to be consuming more than your recommended daily allowance of sodium, 2.4g sodium/ 6g of salt.

Tip: Swap standard table salt (which is processed to contain sodium and 0 minerals) for naturally occurring Himalayan pink salt (which contains 84 minerals including all 6 electrolytes our bodies require). Plus, Himalayan salt tastes saltier therefore less is needed!

Up your fibre

Digestive health can be an issue amongst older people with many suffering from constipation. One way to improve digestive and bowel health is to increase the amount of fibre in your diet.

Fibre can help prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol, aid diabetics by balancing blood-sugar levels, lower the risk of certain cancers and slow the rate at which nutrients are broken down so you stay energised for longer.

Fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, legumes, oats, whole grains, seeds like flax and chia and powders like psyllium husk are all great sources of fibre.

Eat omega 3’s

Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid (EFA), so called because it is needed by the body but cannot be manufactured in the body; it must be obtained via diet.

EFA’s have been found to aid brain, heart, eye, joint and skin health. They prevent abnormal neuron function, reduce the risk of macular degeneration, lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, decrease joint stiffness and inflammation, moisturise skin and reduce the risk of wound infection.

Foods rich in omega 3’s include: oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines), flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, soy beans and spinach.

Supplement for strong bones

Many people are deficient in vitamin D and calcium, particularly amongst the older generation.

Older individuals tend to eat less, have limited diets and venture out less, therefore their bodies are receiving little calcium and vitamin D.  In addition, our bodies’ ability to absorb vitamins and minerals decreases with age too. For example, the skin of an elderly person produces 4× less vitamin D compared to a younger individual when exposed to sunlight for the same amount of time.

Both calcium and vitamin D are needed to maintain strong bones which are especially important for seniors who are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis, as well as falling.

Our main source of vitamin D comes from sunshine, as only traces can be found in foods like mushrooms, egg yolks and oily fish. Calcium can be found in dairy, seeds, beans, lentils, leafy greens and fish with edible bones like sardines and canned salmon.

Unless you have retired abroad and are currently sunning yourself on a roof terrace, you ought to take a vitamin D supplement, especially during the months of October to March. Ideally, choose a supplement with both vitamin D and calcium for maximum vitamin/mineral absorption and strong bones.

Stay hydrated

Did you know dehydration is one of the biggest causes of hospitalisation in older adults?

The human body is composed of approximately 60% water. However, that water percentage decreases with age which means the risk of dehydration increases.

If your body is dehydrated it struggles to regulate temperature, transport nutrients around your body and lubricate joints. This will likely result in feeling cold, tired and achy.

Aim to drink 2 litres of water a day and ensure fluids are always readily available to you. Keep a bottle of water next to your bed or on your coffee table so it’s always near to hand!

A tipple & a treat

Good news, alcohol and chocolate are firmly on the menu.

Red wine and dark chocolate (70% cocoa +) both contain flavanols which can provide a myriad of health benefits. They can aid brain health by protecting neurons, help the brain’s ability to learn new information, improve memory and cognitive functioning, help blood circulation which regulates body temperature, reduces fatigue and reduces foot/hand swelling, so pass the wine (for a small glass every now and then!)

It’s important to note that portion control is required; 30 to 60g dark 70% cocoa and 175ml wine is enough to reap the benefits.

A final word

Food is not just fuel, it’s a way to nourish your body, ignite your taste buds and bring you joy. Be mindful of the ingredients you are putting into your body, but most of all, enjoy what you’re eating.  Life’s too short for overcooked cabbage and stodgy mush!

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