Nutrition and physical activity continue to be important as we grow older. A healthy combination of good food and exercise can delay or even reverse many of the problems associated with ageing, helping older New Zealanders to continue living independently and enjoy a good quality of life.
To help you feel at your best:
- Eat a variety of foods. Have at least three meals every day. Include plenty of different vegetables and fruits
- Maintain a healthy weight. If your weight is a little low, have a snack between meals
- Have at least 6-8 glasses of fluids each day, such as water, tea, coffee, and low fat, calcium enriched milk, unless recommended otherwise by your Doctor
- Try to be active every day
Important nutrients for older adults
The recommended intake of a number of nutrients is greater for older people than for younger age groups. As older people often think they need less food than younger ones, it is important to focus on the nutrients noted below. It can be difficult to get all the nutrients you need if food intake is small, so having at least three meals and between meal snacks and keeping an eye on any weight changes is important.
Provides energy and is also essential for the repair and maintenance of body tissues. Aim to have at least 1-2 serves per day of protein-rich foods from the lean meat and alternatives food group. These include lean red meat, fish, chicken, eggs, legumes (peas, beans and lentils), nuts and seeds.
An essential nutrient as we grow older. A good intake of calcium can help prevent osteoporosis and fractures. Milk, yoghurt, cheese and other milk products are the best sources of calcium, aim for 3 serves each day. However, many other foods contain calcium, including calcium-fortified soy milk, tinned fish (with bones), certain nuts including almonds, brazil and hazelnuts, legumes, tofu and wholegrain breads and cereals. Enjoy a milky Milo or coffee, some yoghurt, cheese, milk-based puddings, sauces and soups at least once a day to improve your calcium intake.
Has an important role in bone health as it helps our bodies to absorb calcium from food. However, it is very difficult to get enough Vitamin D from your diet alone. The best source of Vitamin D is sunlight. Try to get out in the sunlight for at least 30 minutes a day, before 11.00am and after 3.00pm. Foods rich in vitamin D include oily fish, eggs, lean meat and dairy products. If getting enough sun is difficult for you, discuss taking a Vitamin D supplement with your Doctor
Is thought to help reduce the risk of illnesses such as heart disease and even some cancers. Not having enough folate may eventually lead to a type of anaemia called macrocytic anaemia, which can make you feel weak, tired, irritable and possibly give you palpitations. Include plenty of whole grain breads and cereals, dark coloured vegetables, fruit and legumes in your diet. When you go shopping, look for orange juices and cereals that are now fortified with folate.
Is needed for normal blood and brain function. Deficiency can produce a variety of symptoms, including pale skin, low energy, tiredness, shortness of breath and palpitations. The majority of our vitamin B12 comes from animal foods, such as meat, eggs and dairy foods or vitamin B12 fortified foods. Have at least 1 serving of either lean meat, chicken, fish or eggs each day and at least 2 servings of milk or dairy products each day.
If you think you might be going short of any of these nutrients, or want to avoid eating any specific foods, ask your Doctor for advice.
Constipation can be caused by certain medications, not being very active, not drinking enough or not eating enough high fibre foods
- Eat plenty of high-fibre foods like fruits and vegetables (preferably with skins on). Kiwifruit and prunes, legumes, wholegrain or wholemeal breads and cereals are good sources of fibre
- Have at least 6-8 glasses of fluids a day, including water, tea, coffee and milk to help the fibre work effectively
- Keeping active every day will help
If constipation persists, talk to your Doctor or Pharmacist.
Ideas for gaining weight and improving appetite
It is important to maintain a good weight as you age. However, eating alone, ill-fitting dentures or poor teeth, illness, difficulty shopping, being on a tight budget and some medications are factors that can leave you without much of an appetite. Talk to your Doctor or a Dietitian if you are concerned you aren't eating or drinking enough, or if you are losing weight.
- Small meals and snacks can be more tempting than being faced with a huge plate of food. Try scrambled eggs, creamed corn or baked beans on toast, creamy soups, a bowl of fruit topped with yoghurt or ice-cream. If you don't feel like cooking yourself, try some of the ready meals that are available in the fridge and freezer sections at the supermarket and delicatessens. Many companies in New Zealand also offer meal delivery services
- Include high energy snacks in your diet. Try having a snack from the milk, yoghurt and cheese food group
- Try adding extra milk powder to milk and milky drinks, such as tea, coffee and hot chocolate, porridge and creamy soups. This will give you extra protein and calcium without adding bulk
- Enjoy a pudding or dessert every day
- Use standard homogenised milk (with the dark blue cap)
- Try having your main meal in the middle of the day as you'll have more energy to prepare and eat your meals. Save the dessert to have with your lighter evening meal
The eating environment
The environment in which we eat affects our appetite. If you are preparing meals for someone who is not eating well, consider the following:
- Add a table cloth or flowers to a table, and make sure suitable cutlery is available for the meal being served
- We eat with our eyes, so always consider adding a garnish to make a meal as appealing as possible. For example, a piece of parsley or slice of tomato can transform the visual appeal of a pale coloured meal, such as fish pie or macaroni cheese
- Seasoning food is important to stimulate the appetite. Use a little iodised salt in cooking and avoid using salt at the table, and you can use herbs whenever possible to add extra flavour and interest. Make pepper, sauces and chutneys available on the dining table
- Eating with others helps to make a meal more enjoyable, so try to eat with those living alone from time to time and encourage them to join lunch clubs
For more information on nutrition and older adults visit the NZ Nutrition Foundation website
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Eat Well Live Well nutrition workshops
Its objections are to:
- Gain information on the changing nutritional needs as we age
- Learn ways to use pantry ingredients stocked in case of illness or lockdown
- Increase knowledge on shopping on a budget
These workshops are run by Age Concern Hamilton for older people.
Senior Chef cooking classes for older adults
Senior Chef is an eight-week cooking course for people aged 60 and over (55 for Māori and Pasifika) who want to improve their cooking skills, confidence, or motivation around cooking for one or two people.
Classes are three hours long, and run once a week, usually starting at 10am. There are usually twelve people in a class.
Each weekly class includes:
- Nutrition education, for example, eating well for older people, menu planning, budgeting, shopping tips.
- Preparing and cooking a meal in pairs.
- Sharing the meal with the group.
"Cooking for Older People" recipe book order form - this book is provided free to those who attend Senior Chef but it is also available to purchase from Christchurch.
Senior Chef is run in Canterbury. For more information and to find out how to join a course go to www.seniorchef.co.nz
Some popular websites for cooking are the following:
And try these websites if you are cooking for one or two:
Older adults at risk of malnutrition
A recent Massey University study, led by Associate Professor Carol Wham from the College of Health, showed that almost 75% of older adults admitted to hospital were at risk of malnourishment, or were malnourished.
Dr Wham says two-thirds of the 234 participants required daily help with various tasks such as cooking, cleaning, showering and dressing. "This may suggest loss of physical function among the participants and may relate to the low muscle strength observed. 88% of participants were admitted from the community, so their own homes rather than rest homes or care facilities. This suggests the high prevalence of hospital malnutrition may be a result of unrecognised community malnutrition."
If we are to address malnourishment that is occurring in the community before an older adult reaches crisis point and hospitalisation, screening in GP medical centres is needed, Dr Wham says.
"Malnutrition in community-living older adults is often attributed to long-standing inadequate intake. Making screening of the most vulnerable part of the routine in primary care is important to identify those at risk. Screening needs to be followed by referral to a dietitian, who are the experts in nutrition assessment and treatment, to ensure the right people are receiving the right care at the right time."
For more information on the study you can go to www.ana.org.nz
Websites of interest
- Activity & Nutrition Aotearoa (ANA), is an incorporated society established in 1992, with six founding members, the Heart Foundation, Cancer Society, Te Hotu Manawa Māori, National Diabetes Forum, New Zealand Dietetic Association and the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation. The Pacific Island Food and Nutrition Action Group, New Zealand Recreation Association and the Home Economic and Technology Teachers Association of New Zealand have also recently joined. Sport and Recreation New Zealand and the Ministry of Health are observer members of ANA. ANA's mission is to work cooperatively to support New Zealanders achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life through good nutrition and physical activity. They produced regular newsletters that can be view from their website.
- Heart Foundation has a selection of cookery books for sale as well as lots of other useful information and a list of interesting links to other Websites.
- The New Zealand Cancer Society site has good information on ways of eating to minimise the risks of contracting this disease.
- The 5+aday site has recipes and information about the importance of having lots of fruit and vegetables in our diets.
- The American Federal Consumer Information Center has a list of articles on healthy eating.
- Canterbury Health Info has some useful Healthy Eating for Older People Brochures
- Katom which is an American restaurant supply company has a very good page on the use of thermometer to protect your health and it includes a section on the use of thermometers at home.