Having a healthy diet benefits our physical and mental health. Without a healthy diet, we are at higher risk of developing a chronic disease, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and even mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
Our nutrition needs vary depending on our gender and age. As we get older, the things that we need to eat and drink to maintain a healthy diet may be different to what we’re used to in earlier years. Put simply, there are some things we’ll need more of and some that should be cut back. However, staying healthy doesn’t change too much as we age, particularly if we’re already living a healthy lifestyle with a good diet. It’s more important to know our changing nutrition requirements and adapt food choices to ensure our bodies are getting the nutrients we need as we age.
What To Eat When You’re Over 65
The Australian Dietary Guidelines are a great place to start in knowing what we should eat for a healthy diet. These guidelines were developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council and are based on science about the types and amounts of foods and dietary patterns that are most effective in promoting health and wellbeing.
For older adults, the Guidelines advise the following:
- Try to choose foods wisely, even on a budget: Eating well doesn’t have to be expensive, particularly if you plan well. Use what you have in the cupboards and only buy the things you need. There are loads of quick and easy healthy recipes for one or two people that don’t have too many ingredients.
- Look after your teeth: Nuts, grains and certain fruits and vegetables can be difficult to chew. If you find these are affecting your teeth, try to switch them for milled wholegrains, soft cooked and canned fruits and vegetables, as well as nut pastes and butters.
- Prepare and store food safely: Food-borne illnesses can be particularly damaging for older people. It’s important to ensure you follow food safety guidelines to avoid bad bacteria developing in your food.
- Limit your saturated and trans fats: Foods like pies, pastries, fried and battered foods, chips, and chocolate are typically high in saturated fat. They often also contain trans fats. These foods should be eaten only occasionally. If you’re looking for a sweet treat, try fresh fruit with yoghurt, or cakes and crumbles made with whole grains such as oats.
- Eat fibre and drink lots of water: Drinking water is vital for our overall health as it impacts hydration, digestion and blood volume. As we age, we may not feel as thirsty as we did previously, however, it’s important to ensure we are still drinking enough water. As a basis, we should aim to drink 6–8 cups of water a day. This amount should increase on hot days or when exercising. Combining water consumption with foods that are high in fibre will help with digestion and healthy bowel movements.
- Reduce salt intake: Too much salt can increase risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. It’s important to monitor our intake of foods that are high in salt, such as cured meats (ham, corned beef, bacon, etc.), snack foods ( chips, pastries, etc), and certain sauces such as soy sauce. There are numerous food stuffs that offer reduced salt alternatives. In addition, we can also use herbs and spices to flavour cooking instead of salt.
- Monitor alcohol intake: If drinking alcohol, try to follow the recommended guidelines that state no more than two standard drinks of alcohol should be consumed on any given day.
- Get all the vitamins and minerals you need: As we age, we may start to eat less or experience digestive issues. This can result in deficiencies in some important vitamins and minerals. Your doctor can conduct tests to assess your vitamin and mineral levels. If you are deficient, they will be able to recommend the most appropriate supplements.
- Include fish in your diet: Consuming fish regularly can have many health benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, and macular degeneration (a type of vision loss). Having fish twice a week is ideal for seeing the benefits.
- Do physical activity regularly: Physical activity is key to maintaining a healthy weight and muscle strength. Doing a few hours of physical activity a week can have significant benefit for people who are over 65 years old.
- Talk to a health professional about your personal nutrition needs: Some older people may be at risk of malnutrition from restricting their food intake, and consuming too few nutrients and kilojoules for their age. A health professional can guide you on how to best apply nutrition guidelines in your diet.
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