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The importance of good nutrition for the elderly

As we age, the importance of good nutrition is paramount to ensuring optimal health and well-being, particularly given our nutritional needs change as we get older. Likewise, our appetites and lifestyles often change too, and we may not feel as hungry and/or be able to prepare nutritious meals independently. We have the same nutrient requirements as we age, in fact they often increase, but our energy output is reduced as we are less active. All of these factors combined can make healthy eating a challenge for elders, putting them at risk of nutritional deficiencies and potentially impacting upon other health related ailments and overall quality of life.

It’s important to ensure that every snack and meal is as nutrient, but not energy, dense as possible. Try and follow the dietary guidelines around the recommended number of serves per day from the five food groups. Additional servings and discretionary foods and drinks are best enjoyed just now and again on special occasions and for celebratory events. Eating a wide variety of foods is important, as is minimizing trans/saturated fat, sugar, alcohol and salt and maximizing fibre intake. The digestion of food can slow down as we age, so to avoid constipation it’s imperative to drink plenty of water, as well as eating foods high in dietary fibre.

For management of health conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis and sore teeth and gums, a healthy balanced diet is key. Foods rich in Vitamin D and calcium are important in the prevention of and maintenance of healthy bones, while Omega 3 fish oils have shown to be potentially beneficial for those with rheumatoid arthritis. Those with oral health problems may need to consider softer foods such as minced meats and cooked fruits and vegetables.

Food shopping and cooking can be challenging for elders, especially those who live alone or with mobility issues. Preparing a nutritious meal for one may seem pointless and there may be concerns about wasting uneaten or opened packaged food that has spoiled. Dry packaged goods, canned and UHT products are a great way of buying food that keeps for a long time. There are lots of healthy options such as canned fish, pasta, rice, canned fruit, baked beans, meat pastes, cereals and peanut butter or nut spreads.

Staying physically active goes hand in hand with good nutrition so it’s important for our elders to maintain an active lifestyle for as long as they can.

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