Energy requirements decline with age, particularly if physical activity is restricted. However, requirements for protein, vitamins and minerals remain the same, so it's imperative that food choices are nutritionally dense, supplying a rich supply of nutrients in a small volume.
Fat- Advice to restrict fat intakes, particularly saturated fat (animal fats) for cardiovascular health, remains true for older people who are fit and well. Above the age of 75, fat restrictions are less likely to be beneficial. Fat restriction is definitely not appropriate for those who are frail, have suffered weight loss, or have a very small appetite.
Fibre- Many older people suffer from constipation and bowel problems mainly due to a reduced gut motility and inactivity. To help this, the consumption of cereal foods, fruit and vegetables should be encouraged. Raw bran and excessive amounts of very high-fibre foods are not the answer, though; they're too bulky and may interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients. To help the gut work properly it's also important to drink plenty of fluid, approximately eight glasses a day.
Sugar- Many older people have high sugar intakes; whether this is an issue depends on the quality of the rest of the diet. If the rest of the diet contains lots of foods from the main food groups, there is no reason to limit these foods. If weight loss has occurred, these foods may be recommended to meet energy requirements and to aid weight gain.
Iron- Anaemia is common in this age group. Anaemia is a condition where not enough oxygen is carried in the blood due to a lack of red blood cells. Poor absorption, the use of certain drugs and blood loss - together with a poor dietary intake - may be causes. Make sure that iron intakes are met by having red meat and non-meat sources (fortified cereals, dried fruit, pulses and green leafy vegetables) every day. Absorption is maximised by consuming vitamin C-rich foods at the same time.
Zinc- Zinc is needed for a healthy immune system and to help with wound healing, such as pressure ulcers. Rich sources include meat, pulses, wholemeal bread and shellfish.
Calcium- Adequate intakes of calcium help to slow the rate of calcium loss from bones, which starts at the age of 30 and accelerates considerably in later years. Calcium-rich foods (milk and dairy foods) should be eaten every day.
Vitamin D- Vitamin D is needed for calcium metabolism and its deficiency in elderly people can lead to bone softening and distortion. Many older people have limited exposure to sunlight (this vitamin can be made through the action of sunlight on the skin). As a sensible precaution during the winter months, or if housebound, take a vitamin D supplement (10mcg a day). Adult D is an affordable version available in Whelehans Pharmacy (cost less than €3 per month.
B vitamins- Intake of B vitamins may be low in this age group if appetite is poor and the diet isn't rich in vitamins and minerals. Vitamin B6/pyridoxine is found in poultry, whole cereals (oatmeal, wheat germ), and peanuts. Deficiency can lead to depression and irritability. Vitamin B12 is found in meat, salmon, cheese, eggs. Deficiency can lead to anaemia. Anaemia can make you tired, faint and breathless.
We offer a one to one specialist nutrition service at Whelehans Pharmacy. Call Whelehans at 04493 34591 for details of how this service may be of benefit to you