Older adults

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 aging, 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.

Protein 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.

Calcium is 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.

Vitamin D 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 11am and after 3pm. 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

Folate 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.

Vitamin B12 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.

Preventing constipation

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.

Cooking for one or two

Cooking nutritious meals for one or two people does not need to take a lot of time or effort and there are many ways to minimise waste. Read more here

Keeping active

Your level of activity will depend on your fitness levels and mobility. Talk to your doctor if you are just starting to exercise, if you have frail bones or any other issues that may affect your ability to exercise. Exercise is also important in helping maintain your balance as you get older, and reduce the risk of falls. Read more here

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. Read more here

The eating environment

The environment in which we eat affects our appetite. Read more here

Recipe Book Suggestion

'Cooking for Older People' is an excellent recipe book aimed at those cooking for one or two people, and costs $10. Download an order form here.

Nutrition for Healthy Ageing Bulletin

The New Zealand Nutrition Foundation produces a quarterly bulletin on the latest nutrition topics in healthy ageing. Click here to read current and past issues.

Page reviewed Feb 2013