Thinking about nutrition as we get older

Resources for Grandpals

As our folks enter the later stages of their lives, we want them to live as independently as they can. One way to help them achieve this is by making sure they’re getting the right nutrition. Equipping our loved ones with the skills and knowledge they need to get the right food will not only improve their physical health but their mental health too.

This article will give you and your parents a better idea on the recommended diet for people as they age; which foods are best for certain ailments, as well as handy tips for better shopping.

Nutrient-specific needs, why you need them and where to find them

Calcium and Vitamin D

An increased intake of calcium and vitamin D are vital for the ageing population as they help in maintaining healthy bones. This, in turn, will help fight against diseases such as osteoporosis and brittle bones.

They should be consumed together wherever possible as vitamin D aids with the absorption of calcium.

Other calcium-rich foods include white beans, soybeans, fortified cereals, poppy seeds, sesame and chia seeds.

The best way to get vitamin D is through fish like salmon, herring, sardines and tuna.

It’s recommended to have 3 servings a day. To help you get both nutrients together, you can have fortified dairy such as milk, cheese and yoghurt or canned fish like mackerel and salmon.

Iron and Vitamin B12

As we age, the presence of anaemia becomes more common. Anaemia is a condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is the main part of red blood cells and binds oxygen. If you have too few or abnormal red blood cells, or your haemoglobin is abnormal or low, the cells in your body will not get enough oxygen. However, it shouldn’t be presumed that anaemia is an inevitable part of the ageing process as we can take steps to help eliminate it from our lives and those of our older relatives.

One major cause is a deficiency of iron and vitamin B12 in the diet. Consumption of these 2 nutrients together can help prevent the condition as they work to maintain healthy red blood cells and their capacity to carry oxygen around the body.

The best sources of iron are red meat, dark leafy green vegetables, beans, lentils and chickpeas, and iron-fortified cereals. To help absorb the iron into your system, pair it with a vitamin C rich food such as orange juice.

Sources of vitamin B12 include meat and dairy, seafood, fortified cereals, soy products and eggs. It can be difficult to obtain the recommended daily dose of vitamin B12, especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan, so if you’re worried about how much you’re getting a supplement could be a good idea. There are other forms of anaemia which are caused by chronic illnesses. If you suspect you are suffering from anaemia, contact your doctor as soon as possible to find out what type you may have so you can start taking steps in treating it.

The US National Institutes of Health recommends an 8mg of iron a day for men and women over the age of 51 and 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12.

Bad Fats vs Good Fats

Fats normally get a very bad reputation, and with reason for some! However, this fear of fats should only be applied to trans fats and saturated as they increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Trans Fats are the worst for us as they add no dietary benefits to what we eat and should be totally avoided. They have also been attributed to an increase in heart disease, diabetes and strokes. Common foods containing trans fats are processed foods such as biscuits, margarine, cakes and fast food.

Saturated fats should be taken in moderation. There’s no need to totally eliminate them from our diets, but we should be careful about their consumption. An easy way to identify saturated fats is if it’s solid at room temperature. Red meat, full-fat dairy products and coconut oil all contain saturated fats. If consumed in high amounts, these fats cling to your arteries and can cause an array of heart problems. The NHS recommends that men should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat a day and women 20g.

As foods containing saturated fats also contain other vitamins and minerals essential for a healthy diet, it’s ok to consume in low quantities.

There are, believe it or not, good fats too! These healthy fats, known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are vital in any diet, but for the ageing population, they can be crucial in maintaining a healthy heart by preventing heart disease and lowering blood pressure. Healthy fats like omega 3 fatty acid have been attributed to maintaining a healthy brain which can help in preventing dementia.

The best sources of these healthy fats are from fatty fish like salmon and herring, nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados, dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa and vegetables.

According to the Mayo Clinic, 15%-20% of total daily calorie intake should be taken from monounsaturated fats and 5%-10% from polyunsaturated fats, which, based on a diet of 2,000 calories per day, total fat consumption will amount to 44-77 grams.

Fibre

A diet rich in fibre is particularly beneficial for the ageing population as it helps lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of certain cancers like colorectal cancer, helps to control blood sugar levels which are particularly important for those living with diabetes and helps to prevent constipation which decreases the likelihood of haemorrhoids.

The best sources of fibre are wholegrain cereals, oats, whole wheat pasta, brown rice and wholegrain bread, nuts and seeds, whole fruits and vegetables, peas, beans and pulses.

According to the British Nutrition Foundation, adults should consume 30g of dietary fibre a day.

Potassium

Potassium is an essential mineral which helps to maintain healthy blood pressure. It is particularly important for older people as is lowers the risk of stroke, high blood pressure, maintains cardiovascular health, keeps muscles and bones healthy and helps to prevent kidney stones.

To ensure your older loved one is getting enough potassium in their diets, make sure they include fruits such as apricots, citrus fruits, kiwis, melons and bananas; vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, avocado and broccoli; soy products, as well as moderate amounts of meat, fish and dairy.

The Linus Pauling Institute, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends a daily intake of 4.7g.

Help them shop!

If you’d like to help your older loved one make sure they get all the right nutrients, you can start them off by helping them do their grocery shopping. Make a list of all the foods they like to eat and tweak it to include the essential nutrients, especially the ones listed above.

If they have a very rigid diet or have had the same diet for years, don’t expect a change overnight. Start by introducing different food groups, one at a time. It may take a bit longer, but more often than not patience is key and they’ll eventually get there.

As they get to grips with the sorts of foods they should be eating, shopping should become that bit less of a hassle.

If you don’t close to your older relative, you can order online for them and later show them how they can do it themselves too. Most major supermarkets have the option to shop online.

We’ve also found a great app, called ‘buymie’, which allows you to shop from a selection of local shops. Just follow this link to get started.

Remember, a healthy balanced diet is essential for anyone and if you and your loved are considering altering their diet always check with their GP that they’ll be getting everything they need.

Happy shopping!


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