How to eat healthily as you get older

Health Adviser and Nutritionist at Bupa UK
13 January 2017

It’s great to see that we’re living longer than ever before. But as you get older, how can you try and make sure any extra years gained are as healthy as possible? Maintaining a healthy nutritious diet is a great way to start. Here I’ll explain how your body’s nutritional needs change during later life and share my top tips on how to stay healthy as you get older.

An older man with a cup of tea

Your changing energy needs

As you get older, your body composition (what it’s made up of) changes. There’s an increase in fatty tissue and a decrease in lean weight (muscle). Usually coupled with less exercise, this means your body no longer needs as many calories and therefore as much food as it once did.

You might find that your appetite changes and you’re no longer interested in the same foods you once were.  Try these simple tips to help ensure you’re eating enough to stay at a healthy weight.

  • Aim to eat little and often – small meals throughout the day are ideal.
  • Try not to fill up on unhealthy snacks that are high in sugar and saturated fat. Snack on high-protein and high-energy food such as nuts, seeds and dried or fresh fruit instead.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Infusing fruit, mint, lemon or cucumber to your water can help to give it more flavour.
  • Try eating with friends and family as this might help you enjoy meal times more.

Although you might not need as many calories, there are certain vitamins and minerals that you should aim to eat more of as you get older.. Try following these five golden rules to make sure your body gets everything it needs.

1. Eat plenty of high-fibre foods

Eating foods that are high in fibre is great for your bowel health and can help lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. So aim to eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. You could try having porridge with fruit or some wholegrain toast in the morning.

2. Up your intake of omega-3

Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid you get from food, and has been shown to help protect against heart disease. In older people, it may also ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and have positive effects on your eyes  and immune system.

Oily fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids. So aim to eat two portions of fish per week, of which one should be oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, trout, sardines, kippers and red herring.

3. Eat foods high in B vitamins

As you age it can become increasingly difficult for your body to metabolise and absorb essential vitamins that it needs. This can lead to vitamin deficiencies. Vitamin B6, B12 and folate are the most common deficiencies for older people. So try to eat plenty of fortified cereals, fish, meat and eggs which are all great sources of these.

4. Ensure you get plenty of vitamin D and calcium for bone health

Most of your body’s vitamin D is made from sunlight. But as you get older, it becomes harder for your body to make enough vitamin D this way.

For this reason, The Department of Health recommends that if you’re over the age of 65 years and not regularly exposed to sunlight, you should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year. You can also get vitamin D in your diet by regularly eating oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals.

Calcium is also an essential part of your diet. This important mineral can help to keep your bones healthy during later life and may help to protect against osteoporosis. If you’re over 65, you should take in 700 milligrams of calcium a day. A 200ml glass of milk, a pot of yogurt or a matchbox-sized piece of cheese can set you on your way to your daily calcium needs. 

5. Limit your intake of … 

Eating too many foods which are high in saturated fat, sugar, salt and alcohol can increase your risk of disease, no matter what your age. Of course, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have any of the things you love to eat or drink but it is important to moderate these as much as you can.

Don’t forget to get moving

It’s well known that physical activity is good for you and can help protect against certain diseases. So find something you enjoy and get moving! Aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day. You could  do  activities such as dancing, swimming or take a brisk walk. Look to do some strength training too, anything that can improve your muscle and bone strength. Lifting light weights should do it or doing activities such as pilates and yoga.

Emily Walters
Health Adviser and Nutritionist at Bupa UK

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