People can start to become malnourished if they don’t eat enough for just two to three days. According to figures compiled by Age UK, older malnourished people are twice as likely to visit their GP, have more hospital admissions, stay in hospital longer, and have more ill health. It is estimated that 1.3 million people over 65 (almost one in ten) either suffer from, or are at risk of malnutrition, though it is believed that this number could in fact be much higher.
Eating the right things is always vital, no matter what age we are. However, as we get older, our bodies have different needs, meaning that certain nutrients become especially important for good health. What follows is a list of nutrients that are generally considered to be key for maintaining good health in older age. However, please note that individuals should always consult their GP or other health professional for advice on their specific dietary needs.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Older adults need more calcium and vitamin D to help maintain bone health. It is recommended that people in this age group should have three servings of calcium-rich foods and beverages – such as fortified cereals and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, canned fish with soft bones, milk, and fortified plant beverages – every day.
Along with reducing salt intake, increasing potassium in your diet may lower your risk of high blood pressure in older age. Good sources of potassium include fruits, vegetables, and beans. Salt should be avoided where possible – flavour can be added to food with herbs and spices instead.
Many older adults don’t get enough vitamin B12 in their diet. It is advised to seek advice from a doctor or dietician about whether you need to be taking a vitamin B12 supplement. In dietary terms, fortified cereal, lean meat, and some fish and seafood are good sources of vitamin B12.
When it comes to fats, foods that are low in saturated fats and trans fat can help reduce the risk of heart disease. It is recommended that most of the fats you eat should be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are primarily found in nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and fish.
Along with helping your digestion and ensuring you stay regular, fibre-rich foods can help lower your risk for heart disease and prevent Type 2 diabetes. Beans, peas, whole-grain breads and cereals, fruits, and vegetables are all good sources of fibre.
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