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You are what you eat – Guide to a healthy diet for older people

You are what you eat – Guide to a healthy diet for older people

Food might be one of the main pleasures in old age, or indeed it might become something of a challenge. This easy guide to a healthy diet for older people should be useful for you.  There is always room for a donut though!

Maybe it’s a struggle in the kitchen because of mobility or dexterity issues; or perhaps  changes to  digestion, taste and smell making food just fuel, as well as other health issues, whatever the cause, food can be a blessing or a curse.

Food confusion

eating healthily for older people

People are confused about which foods are healthy mainly because of mixed messages that they read in the media.  For instance, tomatoes are full of Vitamin C and provide lycopene which is helpful in preventing prostate problems in older men.

But for arthritis sufferers, tomatoes are bad news as they are acidic and promote inflammation in the joints.   So the fact is that they are both good and bad for you depending on your health issues.

What you eat affects your health – the phrase ‘You are what you eat’ does seem to have more than a ring of truth to it.  Too many older people are malnourished, which means that they do not have enough healthy foods.

There is often a tendency to eat sweet desserts, biscuits and sweets in which there is little nutritional value.  As above – there’s no harm in a sweet tooth, but moderation is all…

What is a healthy diet for older people?

healthy diet for older people

Similar to that for all of us of course generally.  But there are a few specifics that can really help, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains (brown rice, brown bread), essential fats and oils (rapeseed, olive oil), and pulses (such as lentils, chickpeas), fish (particularly oily fish), turkey and chicken.

 Choosing  the healthy option:

  • Brown bread instead of white, brown rice, wholewheat pasta.
  • Oily fish – mackerel, herring, sardines, tuna, salmon. Fresh or canned, except tuna which should be fresh.   As well as essential oils oily fish is also high in Vitamin D.
  • Choose to eat more chicken and fish than red meat which is high in unsaturated fats and more acidic, often affecting digestion and arthritis.
  • Superfoods – many fruit and vegetables are high in nutrients, as are nuts, seeds.
  • Eat a lot of garlic, onions and ginger if you like them as they are all full of healthy nutrients.
  • Probiotic yoghurts help to keep your digestive system healthy with ‘friendly bacteria’. Choose a brand that doesn’t have added sweeteners or sugar.
  • Eat three meals a day, and try to avoid skipping meals.
    This kind of diet provides a good range of vitamins, minerals and amino acids that the body needs.  If it’s affordable it’s always good to buy organic and avoid pesticides, and free range (or organic) meat is a good choice, as the animals are reared outside.

Cost of healthy food

healthy food for older people

It is unfortunately a fact that some healthy food costs more, while unhealthy processed foods (such as frozen pizzas, chips, and burgers) are much cheaper.

This can be difficult for people on a budget, but eating healthily can mean simple foods. For instance,  home made soups, omelettes, and organic vegetables are not too expensive.

Worrying about weight

Some people are concerned about eating too much, but unless they are clinically overweight or obese, there is no need to cut down on food.  Body Mass Index (BMI) is a calculation made from your weight/height ratio.  The easiest way to do this is to go to a calculator online such as this one on the BBC website tells you if you are overweight, normal or underweight.

Food groups

eating healthily for older people

Carbohydrates, protein, and fats are all essential parts of our diet, but what does this mean?  Carbohydrates are an essential part of our diet .  They are:  rice, pasta, potatoes, bread, oats, noodles, couscous, cereals, vegetables, fresh fruit, wholegrains, sugar, honey.

  • It is best to have more slow-releasing or complex carbohydrates that provide energy over a longer period. These include:  wholegrains such as brown rice, brown bread,  wholewheat pasta, vegetables and fresh fruit.
  • Fast-releasing carbohydrates give a quick burst of energy followed by a slump. These include: sugar, white flour, white rice, potatoes, sweets, biscuits, cakes, and some sugary fruits – bananas, dates, raisins and other dried fruits.

Which fats are healthy?

Unsaturated fats (vegetable oils, rapeseed oils, olive oil, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin seeds) are healthier than saturated fats (red meat, bacon, butter , cream, biscuits, cakes).

Omega 3 oils and Omega 6 oils are essential oils that we need for good brain function, and for healthy immune system, nervous system and cardiovascular system.

Which foods are proteins?

Eggs, fish, cheese, meat, soya, beans, lentils, broccoli, corn, and quinoa are all protein foods.

Fibre is good for us

Fibre is also a necessary part of our diet and many of the foods in the above  group provide plenty of fibre.  Wholegrains – where the nutrients haven’t been removed – include brown rice, wholewheat pasta and wholemeal bread,  and are high in fibre, as are vegetables, and fruit.

What are superfoods?

healthy eating for older people

Superfoods are those that contain so many nutrients that they help to fight disease. There are many of them and they include: garlic, ginger, berries, watercress, yoghurt, sweet potatoes, prunes, pomegranates, parsley, oats, grapes, coconut, chicory, blackcurrant, almonds, alfafa, beans and many more.

To have five a day you need  80g (2.82 oz)  for each portion of fruit or vegetables, which equates to:

  • One apple, pear, banana or orange.
  • Three tablespoonfuls of vegetables.
  • A dessert bowl of salad.
  • 150ml (1/4 pint) fruit juice or smoothie.
  • 30g (1 oz) dried fruit after a meal.

Making a smoothie: you can buy smoothies in the supermarket or make your own with a blender.  You can put in a chopped up  banana or mango, pineapple, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or whatever you choose. You can even add kale, spinach, or other vegetables to make it full of nutrients.  See:

Elderly tummies

healthy digestion for elderly people

It  is so important to eat regularly and not skip meals but if there is discomfort it puts anyone off eating. Stomachs seem to become less resilient as we get older and most people are aware of what upsets them.  The most common foods that seem to affect people as they age are:

  • Pastry and cakes.
  • Dairy
  • Bread – this could be the gluten or the wheat and Free From alternatives are available.
  • Acidic foods such as tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, aubergines.

 Protect your insides

  • Make a note of what affects your stomach and at what time of day.
  • Try to eat early in the evening, not just before bedtime.
  • Charcoal tablets are natural and helpful for easing bloated stomach and wind. You can buy them at any chemist or health food store.
  • Consider taking a probiotic supplement to furnish your insides with health bacteria and promote good health. See Vitamins and Supplements.
  • Try substituting different foods – soya for dairy, bread that is gluten free.

If someone is ill or unable or unwilling to eat they can have medical supplements that contain all the nutrients they need – consult a GP or nurse about this.

Public Health England has an Eatwell Guide:

Frances Ive is a health writer and author who has had over 100 articles published in national newspapers and consumer magazines. She is a member of The Guild of Health Writers.

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