How to get your nutritional requirements as you get older
As we get older our nutrition requirements change. Although healthy and whole foods remain the same, how much you need of different food groups slightly changes with age. Still, in saying that, if you need help in understanding what foods you need in order to develop and maintain a healthy diet, have a look at the Australian Dietary Guidelines as a guide. They were developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
There’s plenty of help available too if you’re struggling with preparing healthy meals. Your first point of call would typically be your general practitioner, but in some instances, you’ll need further assistance. For example, you might have Type II diabetes or another underlying health condition. If this is your situation, then an accredited dietician or nutritionist will be able to assist you further.
So what should you eat to stay healthy and reduce the risk of chronic diseases?
What are good choices?
Essentially, in order to maintain a healthy weight, what you put into your body as energy, you need to burn off the equivalent amount. By making healthy choices and portioning your meals you’re on your way to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. But let’s not forget about being active too. This is also important at any stage of your life.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest that you pick foods from the 5 food groups. Firstly, enjoy an abundance of vegetables of all colours as well as legumes and fruit.
Having a diet rich in high fibre whole grains is really important too, and helps to maintain a healthy digestive system. Whole grains come in many varieties such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, oats, quinoa and wholegrain breads. When you’re grocery shopping, look for the high fibre varieties of foods.
Including protein into your diet is also necessary. But always opt for the leaner meats. Proteins such as lean meat, seafood, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds and legumes/beans are good options to get your protein requirements.
Continuing on, the dietary guidelines advise that you include calcium rich foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese, but recommend that adults opt for reduced fat options in these foods.
And last but not least, we should always drink plenty of water. Obviously if there’s an underlying condition such as renal failure, you would follow the fluid and dietary recommendations from your medical specialist.
Foods to avoid
Furthermore, and of great importance, you should always look at limiting saturated fats, salt, sugar and alcohol in your diet.
When you eat fat, choosing polyunsaturated fats is the best option. They’re found naturally in foods such as avocado, nuts and oily fish.
We don’t need to add salt to foods and you should always read the labels of packaged foods. Choose the foods with the lowest sodium that you can find. Salt’s added to most packaged foods including bread.
Of late, the spotlight’s been on the dangers of a diet that’s high in sugar. Try to avoid soft drinks, cordials, sweets that contain sugar, fruit juices and any foods that are high in sugar.
And last but not least, limit your alcohol intake.
Nutrition advice for older adults
Many factors impact on our diet and nutrition as we age. This might be due to a reduced income, a decrease in appetite or lack of energy. For whatever the reason, here are some suggestions to help you.
Work hard to reduce the amount of salt that you consume. Too much salt can cause high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. You really don’t need to add salt to your meals as it’s found naturally in many foods. Nutrition Australia put forward that salt found naturally in foods is typically enough to meet your sodium requirements.
Many older people feel less thirsty and consequently they don’t get enough water into their diet. If you struggle to drink water, try adding cups of tea, soda water, coffee or reduced fat milk to increase your fluid intake. It’s important for your hydration to get enough fluid, as well as your blood volume and digestion of foods.
Also look after your bones. Having your recommended intake of calcium each day, and getting in some exercise too will aid your bone health.
Another consideration is the consumption of fats. Older people tend to be less active and burn less calories. With this in mind, fat is the most calorie dense of the macro-nutrients. Also saturated fats are really bad for you. Reducing your fat intake is so important as you get older. If you want to have desserts or pastries, really search for the healthiest of options such as low fat & low sugar.
In saying that reducing fats is healthy, some older people find it difficult to consume enough calories and find that they’re losing weight. If this is you, it might be worrisome to consider eliminating some foods that you’ve always enjoyed consuming. If you’re losing weight without intention, it’s really important to visit your G.P. to discuss your personal health needs. Your G.P. can point you in the right direction to get help in meeting your daily nutritional requirements.
Finally, you might read this and think, that’s fine for people that have plenty of money. If you’re on a budget, take these suggestions and do the best that you can with them. There are many recipe suggestions on the Nutrition Australia website and the Dietitians Association of Australia website. Although healthy eating can be expensive, there are ways to save money and still eat well.
Planning your meals is the key when you’re on a strict budget. Only buy what you need and stick to it. Choose quick and easy, healthy recipes. By reducing your time in the kitchen, you’re more likely to cook the food and less likely to waste it. Also think about cooking in bulk and freezing your leftovers. It’s often cheaper to purchase larger quantities of fresh foods. Remember to store food safely. If you need advice on food storage, follow the food safety guidelines.
Your energy requirements will be dependent on many factors. These include your level of physical activity, your age, height, and muscle mass.
As muscle mass reduces and activities levels decline, so too will your energy requirements. Remember that it’s important to still try to get 3o minutes of activity each day if you’re physically able to do so. Although you energy requirements might reduce, continue to have a highly nutritious diet.
Furthermore, look at the serving sizes of your meals and adjust them based on whether you’re gaining or losing weight. The Australian Dietary Guidelines has further information regarding standard serving sizes.
As you age, you might find it harder to get to the grocery store. If this is the case, look at asking a friend, neighbour or family member to help you out. When nobody is available it might be time to consider accessing aged care support services in the home. If you feel that you need extra help with your grocery shopping or meal preparation, contact My Aged Care on 1800 200 422.
Some people develop increase support needs as they get older. Sometimes we’re no longer able to prepare meals, shop for groceries, cut up our food, or swallow food easily. If this is your situation, it’s likely that your nutritional needs aren’t being met. seek help as soon as possible. Talk with your G.P. and contact My Aged Care to arrange an assessment to access aged care support services.
Health concerns and meeting your nutritional needs
As a registered nurse, nutrition student, and home care coordinator, I hear many common concerns voiced by ageing Australians.
People frequently worry about their bowel functions as they age. In order to keep your bowels working well you need to drink plenty of water, remain physically active and eat a diet rich in fibre. If your bowels still aren’t working efficiently, consider getting extra support. In this case, you should consult with your G.P.
Bone health is another concern for older Australians. We need calcium as well as vitamin D to build and maintain bone health. Our calcium requirements slightly increase as we age. If you’ve developed Osteoporosis over the years, Osteoporosis Australia advises that calcium intake through diet won’t be enough to prevent fractures of the bones. Osteoporosis treatment plans designed by your doctor will be needed, and they may prescribe a calcium supplement as part of your treatment.
Another health concern for many ageing Australians is dental health. Unfortunately, many older people find it difficult to get to the dentist, and this can significantly impact on nutrition and diet. Ill fitting dentures, cavities, and pain can effect eating patterns.
It’s easy to say go to the dentist and have a check-up. Dentists don’t typically offer house calls and as a result of this some people just don’t know how to get to a dentist. If you don’t have anybody that can take you to the dentist, look at contacting My Aged Care for help. You might be eligible for transport assistance to and from health care appointments. If you can’t afford the dentist, you could be eligible for free dental care. Public dental services are run by each state health department separately, and you’ll need to contact them to determine your eligibility.
Remember that as you get older, really focus on getting your nutritional requirements. Drink plenty of water, eat a variety of healthy foods, and ask for help when it’s needed. Start by visiting your doctor and move forward from there.