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Nutrition for older adults

Your diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. As you get older, nutrition is increasingly important to health, and consequently quality of life. The longer you can be mobile, physically fit and mentally healthy, the longer you can enjoy retirement. We recommend dietary options which may prevent the common causes of declining health and quality of life in old age:

  • Irregular weight (malnutrition or obesity)
  • Declining bone, joint and dental health
  • Cognitive decline and stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease

The large range of options provided for each nutrient may look overwhelming, but you only need to pick one or two foods from each list. Therefore, there is plenty of choice to pick the foods you like. Furthermore, our recommendations here are merely guidelines. What is appropriate for you as an individual will vary depending on your tastes, current health conditions, medication, and level of physical activity, amongst other genetic and environmental factors. It is therefore recommended to get a professional nutritional assessment. Moreover, a healthy diet should be accompanied by at least moderate physical activity, mental exercise, a healthy social environment, a safe physical environment and good dental health.

1. Irregular Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight becomes increasingly challenging with age. You risk putting on too much weight, leading to obesity, or losing weight and getting malnourished.

Both carry health risks. Whereas obesity increases risks of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, malnutrition delays recovery from illness, and adversely affects body functions.

There is a delicate balance between these outcomes, related to changes your body occurs. You will likely become less active with time, and your energy requirements will fall, as muscle is replaced by fat.

How you can maintain a healthy weight:

  • Every 10 years after the age of 60, the number of calories recommended falls by 100kcal a day.
  • Cut down the amount of fat, to about 30% of total kcal, to correspond to this lower caloric intake.
  • Make sure you still get important nutrients, detailed in the following sections, from a smaller diet. For certain nutrients, e.g. vitamin C, supplements can replace some food intake.

2. Declining bone, joint and dental health

Declining bone and joint health from osteoporosis greatly increases the risk of fractures from falls. Due to decreased mobility, and additional complications, this can lead to significant declines in your overall health, and quality of life.  Arthritis is another common and painful condition related to joint health. Dental health is also important to enjoy your food and consume a balanced diet.

Essential nutrients:

  • Calcium:
    • Watercress, kale rocket, collard greens okra or broccoli
    • Low fat cheeses, e.g. mozzarella, feta, goat cheese, Neufchatel cheese, Camembert
    • Yogurt or milk
    • Almonds
    • Canned fish, e.g. sardines, salmon, anchovies
  • Vitamin D:
    • Fish oil, e.g. menhaden, sardine, cod liver oil, herring
    • Mushrooms
    • Oily fish, e.g. salmon, trout, mackerel
    • Fortified cereals
  • Vitamin K:
    • Herbs, e.g. Basil, sage, parsley, coriander
    • Spinach, kale, Brussel sprouts or broccoli
    • Garden cress, spring onions, watercress, lettuce, rocket or cucumber
    • Chilli powder, e.g. paprika, cayenne
    • Asparagus, fennel, leeks or okra

3. Cognitive impairment and cardiovascular disease

Cognitive impairments and cardiovascular disease comprise some of the most feared conditions and major risks to health and quality of life. Cognitive impairments include Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Cardiovascular conditions include stroke, arterial blockages and coronary heart disease. Notwithstanding the seriousness of both sets of conditions, it may seem odd to group these conditions together. However, they also generally require the same nutrients to keep them at bay.

Essential nutrients:

  • Folic acid:
    • Spinach, kale, Brussel sprouts or broccoli
    • Beans and legumes
    • Yeast and beef extract
    • Citrus fruits
    • Wholegrains, e.g. whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta
    • Chicken or turkey
    • Shellfish, e.g. clams
    • Fortified cereals
  • Vitamin B12:
    • Shellfish, e.g. clams
    • Beef liver
    • Oily fish, e.g. Mackerel, salmon, herring, tuna, trout
    • Chicken or turkey
    • Eggs
  • Vitamin B6:
    • Sunflower seeds
    • Pistachios
    • Oily fish, e.g. Mackerel, salmon, herring, tuna, trout
    • Chicken or turkey
    • Bananas
    • Avocados
    • Spinach
  • Omega 3:
    • Flaxseed oil
    • Fish oil, e.g. menhaden, sardine, cod liver oil, herring
    • Chia seeds
    • Almonds, pecans and walnuts
    • Oily fish, e.g. Mackerel, salmon, herring, tuna, trout
    • Soybeans
    • Spinach
  • Antioxidants:
    • Tomatoes
    • Citrus fruits
    • Berries, e.g. blueberries, goji berries, cranberries, blackberries
    • Dark chocolate
    • Artichokes
    • Beans and legumes
    • Coriander
  • Fibre (only for CVD):
    • Beans and legumes
    • Whole grains, e.g. whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta
    • Brown rice
    • Popcorn
    • Almonds, pecans and walnuts
    • Baked potato with the skin
    • Berries, e.g. blueberries, goji berries, cranberries, blackberries
    • Bran cereals, oatmeal
    • Crunchy vegetables, e.g. celery, carrots, cauliflower, peppers, pickles

Additional resources

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