Eating a healthy diet is important at all life stages, but particularly as we get older. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), most of the diseases people suffer in older age, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis, are caused by poor diet. A healthy eating plan, combined with exercise, can help an ageing family member to avoid these diseases, and can help them lead a more active, enjoyable, and independent life.
Eating a balanced and healthy diet can become more difficult as people age. Deteriorating teeth may make chewing harder, food may become less appealing as taste buds become less sensitive, and a more sedentary life and medication may lessen appetite. Because of this you may find that you have to encourage an elderly relative to change their diet.
This can be challenging. Meaning it’s vital to understand what they should be eating and avoiding, and the steps that you can take to help them change what they eat.
What foods should my elderly relative eat?
A healthy diet is one that includes a range of nutritious food groups and minimises those foods which can harm health. Try to make sure foods from the following groups are included in your elderly relative’s diet:
Fruit and vegetables
The elderly can suffer from malnutrition if they begin to eat less and their diet no longer contains enough of the vitamins and minerals that they need to stay healthy. Fruit and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals and are the foundation of a healthy diet. Try to encourage your relative to eat a range of fruits and vegetables of varying colours, as different colours often mean they contain different vitamins and minerals.
Cereals, like bread, pasta, rice, and oats, are packed with calories, and help maintain energy levels. If you’re concerned that an elderly relative is not eating enough, then even small portions of these foods can boost the number of calories in their diet.
However, if the opposite is true, and they need to lose weight, make sure that you minimise these foods. Aim for whole grain versions of cereals, as they are more nutritious, and contain more fibre, which is vital for keeping bowel movements regular.
Muscles begin to waste as we age, but protein can help combat muscle loss. Meat is a great source of protein but opt for meat that is low in saturated fat, such as chicken, turkey, and fish. High-levels of protein can also be found in nuts, beans, and dark green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and asparagus.
Low-fat, low-sugar dairy
Dairy products, such as cheese, milk, and yoghurt, contain protein, but are also high in calcium, which can help to stave off or minimise the effects of osteoporosis (the loss of bone density). Again, choose products which are low in fat, but you also need to avoid those that are high in sugar, as sometimes manufacturers replace fat with sugar.
Some important vitamins and nutrients are commonly lacking in the diets of the elderly, such as calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and omega 3 fatty acids. Supplements can therefore be used to add more of these to your relative’s diet. However, supplements can interfere with medications, so consider consulting their GP before adding any to their daily routine.
What foods should my elderly relative avoid?
The following foods if eaten in large amounts can harm the health of elderly people. They should only be eaten occasionally.
Foods that are high in fat, and particularly saturated fat, should be avoided as they are associated with a range of health problems from cancer to heart disease. These include beef, pork, lamb, and high-fat dairy products.
Too much sugar is associated with obesity and diabetes. Try to limit your elderly relative’s intake of cakes, chocolate, and sweets.
Salt raises blood pressure and puts a strain on the heart, kidneys, and the brain, which can increase the chances of heart problems, strokes, and dementia. Limit salt-rich foods such as; bacon, processed meats, salted nuts, and ready meals.
How can I encourage my loved one to eat well?
Making changes to an elderly person’s diet, or even making sure that they eat enough food, can be tiring and stressful. The following should help make healthy eating less of a challenge.
Stick to a schedule
As interest in food and appetite declines, waiting until an elderly family member feels hungry may no longer be an option. Establishing set times for meals and snacks can help ensure that they eat regularly and eat enough.
Serve smaller portions
Large plates of food can be off-putting. Small meals may be less overwhelming, but to make sure that they are eating enough, consider serving more courses with each meal, and have snacks on hand.
Make healthy snacks available
Snacks can help ensure that your elderly relative eats enough and can assist with keeping eating interesting. Stick to healthy snacks, like unsalted nuts, fresh and dried fruit, and low-fat/low-sugar yoghurt.
Encourage them to drink water
Not drinking enough water can suppress appetite. Encouraging an elderly loved one to drink regularly can help them to eat larger meals, and to eat more often.
Take note of what works
Keep notes on what meals were enjoyed, what times of day work best, and which foods were disliked or caused stomach problems. You’ll soon have a list of recipes to choose from, and you’ll be able to experiment with foods that seem to work.
Find out more
Learn more about elderly care with Cera or contact us on 0333 455 2502 to discuss the needs of your elderly relative.
WHO advice on nutrition for the elderly
Effects of high-saturated fat intake
Effects of high-salt intake
Effects of high-sugar intake