Nutrition is hugely important no matter what our age.
But as we age, our nutritional requirements, appetite and bodily functions gradually change. It is important to be aware of these changes in order to make the necessary dietary changes to remain healthy.
With so many facts, figures and myths out there, it can be confusing trying to keep up with the latest healthy eating advice. We’ve put together some helpful tips on how to provide healthier meals for older people.
Planning and preparation
As we age, our appetite can naturally decrease, so it is important to eat enough nutritionally dense food when hungry. Yet, it can be difficult to find the time to make sure older people are getting the right amount of nutrients at the right times. Meal planning can make this easier.
Making meals in advance can be particularly effective for older people with family members and friends who can help with making their food. Meal preparation could also make mealtimes less stressful and cooking more exciting and sociable.
Healthy eating, healthy living
It is also important to use nutrient-dense foods, this includes lots of vegetables and fruits, nuts, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. The nutritional values of all foods can be found on the packaging, so keep an eye out for foods that are very high in salt, sugar and saturated fat, and use these in moderation.
Reducing salt intake is a very simple way of improving the overall quality of what older people eat. With age we may also find our taste buds changing, so replacing salt with a variety of herbs and spices when cooking can make meals more vibrant and healthier.
It’s also important to remember the positive effect a balanced diet has on our brains. Consumption of Omega-3 Fatty acids for example, found in foods such as oily fish and walnuts, can improve brain function and memory.
Quick Tip: Some older people may have difficulty chewing or swallowing, so opting for softer foods that are more easily consumed will also greatly improve mealtime experiences.
Part of the change in bodily functions as we age includes our ability to absorb essential vitamins. Many older people are deficient in vitamin D, particularly as they are less likely to spend long periods outside in direct sunlight. The Department of Health recommends a daily supplement that contains 10mcg of Vitamin D for those with reduced exposure to sunshine.
You can contact a doctor or nutritionist for more information on the benefits of supplementation.
Healthy diet is about more than just food
Older people’s thirst can often decline; this results in many older people suffering from dehydration. It is important to make sure that older people are drinking enough water throughout the day to prevent this.
Make a healthy lifestyle a sociable one
Eating should be enjoyed; this is particularly important for older people who are more likely to experience loneliness. Inviting friends and family for dinner or popping to the supermarket with others can be excellent ways for older people to socialise. Also, with decreasing appetites, socialising at mealtimes can encourage older people to eat regularly, which ensures they maintain a healthy weight.
At our Gracewell care homes, residents eat all their meals together to encourage sociable eating habits. We’ve found this to be extremely beneficial in encouraging and maintaining our residents’ healthy lifestyles.
It’s never too late
Remember, no one is ever too old to start eating healthily. And, with so many simple ways to make a change to the diets of older people, why not start today!
To find out more about Gracewell Healthcare or to visit one of our homes and meet our dedicated dining teams, find your nearest Gracewell care home.