As we grow older, it is common for our appetites to decrease, along with our sense of taste and smell. This can cause you to eat less food, putting you at risk of missing out on essential nutrients that your body needs to age well and stay healthy.
To prevent this from happening, it’s important to make eating healthy food an enjoyable experience that is part of your everyday routine. To help, here are our 10 tips on how to enjoy a healthy diet as a senior.
1. If you don’t feel hungry, try eating smaller meals more often.
It’s common to lose your appetite as you grow older. To make sure that you still get the nutrients you need each day, try eating 5-6 small meals rather than trying to eat larger amounts for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If you’re used to your hunger cues reminding you to eat, it may be helpful to set reminders to eat something – perhaps every two to three hours. Repetition helps us build good habits into our routine more easily, so that eating will eventually feel more like a natural part of your day rather than a chore that needs to be done.
2. Make the food you eat as beneficial as possible.
If you find you aren’t eating as much as you used to, make sure the food you are eating packs a punch in terms of nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
A good guide to follow is the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Nutritious foods that are good to include in your diet include:
- fruits and vegetables – try to eat a variety of different fruits and vegetables you enjoy, of all different colours
- grain foods such as bread, cereal, rice, oats and pasta – try to eat these instead of too many biscuits, cake and pastries
- protein such as meat, chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and beans
- dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt
3. Enjoy eating with other people.
As we age, the benefits of being with other people and eating together become even more important, both for our appetites and our mental health.
Eating a meal is much easier to do if you enjoy the experience. When possible, share your meals with family members, friends and neighbours, whether that’s a cup of tea and a snack or a main meal. This keeps eating fun, and has the added bonus of helping you stay social.
4. Remember to drink water regularly.
Although it’s easy to forget, drinking water each day is important to stay hydrated, especially when the weather is warm.
If you often forget to drink water, try keeping a water bottle or jug somewhere within easy reach, to remind you to drink. You can also make water more flavourful by adding a slice of lemon, orange or cucumber for a refreshing hit.
5. Make it easy to prepare a tasty meal.
If you find cooking or going to the shops difficult, there are some steps you can take to make sure you keep eating regular meals. Try a home delivery service, or get in touch with us at Home Caring to find out how we can help you get your grocery shopping done, if transport is an issue.
To make things easy when it comes to cooking, keep your kitchen well-stocked with foods that are easy to prepare such as tins of tuna, microwave rice, frozen vegetables and healthy ready-made meals. Home Caring support workers can also help you prepare easy, tasty and nutritious meals that you’ll enjoy eating regularly.
6. Get enough calcium in your diet.
Calcium is a vital ingredient for strong teeth and bones. If you don’t get enough in your body, your bones may become weak and brittle, increasing your risk of fractures.
The amount of calcium recommended in your diet increases as you age, with women aged 51 to 60 and adults over 70 requiring the highest amount. Good sources of calcium include milk, yoghurt, cheese, leafy green vegetables and tofu. Tins of sardines and salmon (bones included) are also easy sources of calcium to include in your diet.
7. Go easy on the salt.
We all need a certain amount of salt to live, but too much can cause high blood pressure, which puts you at increased risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
To keep your salt intake at a healthy level, don’t eat too many high salt foods such as cured meats (e.g. ham), potato chips, high salt sauces such as soy sauce, and fast food. If you tend to add a lot of salt to your meal, try improving the flavour by adding herbs, spices, garlic, ginger or a splash of lemon juice instead.
8. Look after your bowels
Along with drinking plenty of fluids, a great way to look after your bowel health, improve your digestion and prevent constipation is to include high fibre foods in your diet. Eating fibre can also lower your cholesterol levels, which helps fight heart disease.
Foods such as fruits (both fresh and dried), vegetables, beans, lentils, wholegrain breakfast cereal, wholegrain bread, wholegrain crackers and oats are good sources of fibre.
9. Eat enough protein
Your body uses protein to do important repair work, especially building and maintaining muscles, repairing skin and helping fight infection. Scientists suggest seniors need to keep up their protein to help preserve their muscle mass. A 2017 study of 2,000 older adults found those who ate to least amount of protein were almost twice as likely to have problems walking or climbing up the stairs compared to those who had the most.
Good sources of protein are lean meat (including chicken and fish), eggs, tofu, nuts, beans, milk, cheese and yoghurt, so try to include these in your diet.
10. Recognise the signs of malnutrition
Malnutrition is a serious health condition that develops when someone doesn’t have enough nutrients in their diet for their body to function properly. Research shows that up to half of older Australians living in aged care or at home are at risk of malnutrition, which can lead to significant health issues.
Signs of malnutrition include things like weight and muscle loss (you may notice that clothing becomes loose), lack of interest in food and drink, tiredness, wounds that don’t heal, poor concentration, weakness and hair loss. If you suspect you or your loved one is suffering from malnutrition, make sure you speak to a health professional as soon as possible.