Why a good diet makes all the difference to ageing

It’s no secret that choosing a diet rich in nutrient dense foods such as fruits and vegetables, lean protein and avoiding overly processed foods which are high in sugar, saturated fat and salt is better for our health.

And while many dietary habits are formed when we are young, it’s never too late to introduce healthier choices on the menu – especially as we age.

Good nutrition plays a significant role in determining the well-being of older people, and in delaying and reducing the risk of contracting diseases and conditions such as diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease and osteporosis.

According to Nutrition Australia, as we get older our lifestyles and appetite can change which can also affect the types of food we eat.

A decreasing appetite or a reduced ability or budget to buy and prepare healthy foods can mean many older Australians don’t get enough essential vitamins, minerals, trace minerals and fibre which can contribute to general ill-health, or exacerbate some chronic illnesses.

It is vital to use every meal and snack as an opportunity for maximum nutrition and find ways to improve your diet, even if this means asking for help from friends, family, your doctor or other community services.

It might be wise to consult health practitioners in regards to supplementation, especially calcium if the dietary dairy intake is not adequate. Osteoporosis is a huge factor in bone fractures among older women.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), osteoporosis and associated fractures are a major cause of illness, disability and death, and are a huge medical expense. It is estimated that the annual number of hip fractures worldwide will rise from 1.7 million in 1990 to around 6.3 million by 2050.

Women suffer 80 per cent of hip fractures; their lifetime risk for osteoporotic fractures is at least 30 per cent, and is probably closer to 40 per cent. In contrast, the risk is only 13 per cent for men. Women are at greater risk because their bone loss accelerates after menopause.

There are five principal recommendations featured in the Australian Dietary Guidelines. Each guideline is considered to be equally important in terms of public health outcomes.

Guideline 1
T
o achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs.

  • Children and adolescents should eat sufficient nutritious foods to grow and develop normally. They should be physically active every day and their growth should be checked regularly.
  • Older people should eat nutritious foods and keep physically active to help maintain muscle strength and a healthy weight.

Guideline 2
Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day:

  • Plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/beans
  • Fruit
  • Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
  • Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
  • Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years)

And drink plenty of water.

Guideline 3
Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.

  • Limit intake of foods high in saturated fat such as many biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies, processed meats, commercial burgers, pizza, fried foods, potato chips, crisps and other savoury snacks.

Guideline 4
Encourage, support and promote the dexterity of older people, especially when swallowing and drinking.

Guideline 5
Care for your food; prepare and store it safely.

To read more, go to: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-food-resources.htm

Or go to http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/nutrition-and-older-adults for information on healthy eating habits for older adults.

Gilian Douglass

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