Research has found that up to 30 per cent of older people living in the community are either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition, according to dietitian and author Ngaire Hobbins.
Ms Hobbins said seniors had different nutrition needs and their eating patterns needed to change with age to support their physical and mental capacity.
She and in-home care provider Home Instead Senior Care have just developed a free nutrition guide to raise awareness levels about nutrition for seniors. It’s called Nutrition for Seniors: A guide to healthy habits for eating well as you age.
According to Ms Hobbins, the top 10 myths when it comes to nutrition for seniors are:
- Your stomach shrinks as you age - “Your appetite may change but your stomach doesn’t shrink when you get older. Not eating well enough actually accelerates the ageing process.”
- Weight loss is healthy - “This is not the case when you are older. Dieting or unintentional weight loss should be avoided in our later years. Having a bit of extra padding at a later age can provide essential support to your body and brain for the years to come.”
- As you get older, you need to eat less - “It’s true your metabolism will slow and your energy levels will decrease. Food and eating are important components as it protects and fuels you. Keep in mind you may need more foods than others, particularly those rich in protein, vitamins and minerals.”
- Only eat what you feel like - “The ageing process can deceive our appetite and the triggers that inform us if we are hungry or full. Consequently, seniors may end up eating less than what their bodies require. An outright loss of appetite is abnormal and could be a symptom of an underlying health problem. If you are having problems, try to eat small meals consistently throughout the day, even if you don’t feel like it.”
- You need to follow a low-fat diet - “Contrary to popular belief, a low-fat diet isn’t always the best for older people. Fat is a crucial source of calories and some seniors may need to consume more to maintain their weight. Ideally, they should consume fats found in foods such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish.”
- You need to eat more vegetables - “Nutrient-rich vegetables should still be an important part of your diet, but protein foods should be at the centre of your plate with vegetables surrounding it. This is because you need more protein as you age. Protein keeps our muscles, immune system, body organs and brain working and renewing minute by minute.”
- Only drink water when you’re thirsty - “If you’re feeling thirsty, that means you already slightly dehydrated. This is a problem as neither your body nor brain can perform at peak capacity. Dehydration can bring on confusion, hinder kidney function and worsen a range of other conditions.”
- Supplements are sufficient - “Many supplements state they will help you live longer, boost memory, fight off dementia and more, however they are unable to live up to their claims. There is also another problem - a lot of supplements interact with common medications or they don’t work the way they’re intended to if you’d sourced them from food.”
- You must always eat a ‘proper meal’ - “Eating three full meals a day can be a struggle if you have a loss of appetite or are finding cooking a difficult task. Five or six small meals or well-chosen snacks can be just as beneficial. The saying ‘making good choices’ still rings true with old age.”
- Malnutrition is a normal part of the ageing process - “Malnutrition is not normal and can affect anyone. Don’t dismiss the warning signs as being part of ‘old age’.”
The main symptom of malnutrition is unintended weight loss. Other signs include reduced appetite, lack of interest in food and drinks, feeling tired all the time, feeling weaker, getting ill often and taking a long time to recover, wounds taking a long time to heal, poor concentration, feeling cold most of the time, low mood or depression.
You should see your doctor if you have the symptoms.
For a free copy of the nutrition guide, click here.