As the age of technology and medicine advance, we are finding more and more people are living longer and an increased lifespan come issues that need to be addressed. One such issue is the increased risk of malnutrition in the elderly. Most elderly have a reduced appetite and other difficulties when it comes to eating and staying healthy. Patients may have medical conditions that require specific dietary prescriptions, but below are some of the general tips on what is important over and above the normal healthy eating guidelines.
Calcium and Vitamin D in the elderly
With this specific population, it is very important that there is a good intake of these two nutrients to help maintain healthy bones. Calcium and vitamin D are found in dairy products (aim for 3 servings a day), dark green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals and tinned fish with soft bones. We always recommend that we try to get the nutrients that we need from our foods. However, if there is any concerns with regards to malabsorption of nutrients or insufficient intake we recommend that you take a calcium supplement that also contains vitamin D.
Fibre is the portion of food which slows down your digestion, makes you feel fuller for longer, and helps you control your weight and your blood sugar levels. It has also been shown to decrease your risk of heart disease as well as type 2 diabetes. Good sources of fibre are fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans and lentils), wholegrain breads and whole wheat or high fibre breakfast cereals such as oats, weetbix and bran flakes.
Vitamin B12 and Iron in the elderly
Many older adults do not get enough of these two nutrients. These both have very important functions in our body. Iron is an important element of haemoglobin and is responsible for the transportation of oxygen in the blood. Vitamin B12 has an important role in the production of your red blood cells and DNA as well as helping the nervous system to function properly. Good sources of iron include red meat, liver, poultry, fish as well as lentils, beans and spinach. Try to including a source of vitamin C when eating food high in iron as this improves iron absorption in the digestive system. Good sources of Vitamin B12 are foods like fortified cereals and breads, lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs and some seafood.
Dietary fats have been linked to increase risk of colon, pancreatic and prostate cancers as well as coronary heart disease and obesity. The intake of dietary fats is important though as they contain fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids that our body cannot make. It is all about the types of fats. The best fats for us to eat are called monounsaturated fats, these can be found in avocado, olives and olive oils, canola oil and nuts. The best oils to cook with are therefore canola oil or avocado oil as olive oil does burn at high temperatures. Dark oily fish contain polyunsaturated fats such as omega 3 and omega 3 has been seen to have positive effects on your heart health. It is important to still limit the amount of fats we have though as fat is very calorie-dense and can cause weight gain if used in large amounts.
Obviously each individual and their complex medical conditions is different and so it is important to seek proper medical advice with regards to your loved ones diet and how to improve their health. Speak to one of our dietitians if you have questions or need more guidance.