Facts about malnutrition
How to breakdown barriers and prevent malnutrition
This week is Malnutrition week, which aims to raise awareness about the dangers of malnutrition among health professionals and the public. Lite n’ Easy dietitian, Melissa Holloway discusses the facts about malnutrition and tips for addressing barriers.
What is malnutrition?
Malnutrition in Australia often comes down to barriers to eating adequate food and nutrition. It can be experienced by young or old, and can often be overlooked as someone might still ‘look healthy’. It can be experienced by anyone who can’t eat enough to support their body’s nutrient needs – for example:
- An individual with a medical condition such as cancer, kidney disease and emphysema. This can cause the body to have higher energy and nutrient needs than normal.
- Someone with a medical condition that affects how well nutrients are absorbed from food.
- A person who is experiencing a fading appetite, which often occurs with aging.
Malnutrition occurs over a period of time during which a person is not consuming the nutrition that their body needs. This causes weight loss, loss of muscle and a weakened immune system. It also puts the person at risk of further health deterioration.
Who is most at risk of malnutrition in Australia?
While not the only group at risk of malnutrition, the elderly are a particular risk. This is because of the number of health challenges they face that can create barriers to good nutrition.
For example, a shared experience of many older people is a decrease in appetite that comes on with age. When a poorer appetite is combined with other age-related barriers to eating well, such as social isolation or depression, or difficulty shopping and preparing nutritious food. It can create a gradual downhill slide toward malnutrition. Someone with malnutrition faces a higher risk of falls, hospitalisation, increased occurrences of short-term illness, and poorer recovery from illnesses. All of which can affect their long-term independence and ability to keep well.
It’s important to note here that while a frail older person is more at risk, it doesn’t mean that an older person who is larger cannot develop malnutrition. Weight loss in an older person can result in a higher loss of muscle than it would in a younger person, regardless of their weight, which can negatively affect mobility and overall wellbeing.
Early identification of malnutrition risk is important
Addressing barriers to eating well is key in preventing malnutrition, and the earlier the better.
The best way to prevent malnutrition is firstly to look out for barriers to eating well and signs that it might already be happening:
- Have you noticed your clothes or jewellery are more loose than usual?
- Are you struggling to finish meals more recently?
- Are you skipping meals or frequently having something small instead like toast, because the effort of cooking doesn’t feel worth it?
- Have you been unwell recently and are still struggling with a poor appetite?
It is important to see your GP for a review if you notice any signs of weight loss or poor appetite.
Tips for eating with a smaller appetite
Addressing barriers to eating well isn’t always easy, but there are some ways to increase your food intake despite a smaller appetite:
1. Get more bang-for-your-buck
Eat more foods that are naturally higher in calories and protein.
- Add custard, yoghurt or cream to desserts or fruit.
- Add extra oil, butter or cheese to meals, and spread your toast or sandwiches thickly with butter and other spreads.
- Swap the vegemite sandwich for protein-filled ones like ham and cheese, chicken, salmon or tuna.
- Avoid filling up on watery drinks such as tea or coffee.
2. Try eating smaller meals, but more often
It can be tiring, even overwhelming, for some people to eat their way through a regular sized meal.
- Cut the serve size to suit your appetite. But make sure you have another small meal or a high calorie/high protein food within 2-3 hours afterwards. For example, a handful of nuts, cheese and crackers. Or some toast with thick cream cheese or peanut butter, a yoghurt or a milkshake.
- To achieve this, it might be best to start eating by the clock, rather than waiting until you are next hungry for a meal.
3. Find your favourites
Delicious, familiar food can inspire a struggling appetite. But with the effort required to shop, prepare food and clean up afterwards it’s often put aside for a piece of toast and a cup of tea.
- Home-delivered, nutritious meals are a convenient option. They can be a life-saver for anybody on their own or those who struggle to cook.
- If you’re struggling with not being able to taste meals, try adding your favourite chutneys or sauces, some citrus, or extra herbs, spices and seasoning to boost the flavour of meals.
How can Lite n’ Easy help?
Lite n’ Easy has a wide range of meals that suit a mix of appetites and preferences. For those who don’t want to cook, our regular dinner range provides all of the home comforts in a convenient package.
For those with a smaller appetite, My Choice by Lite n’ Easy is a new range of great tasting meals developed specifically to help older Australians to meet their nutritional needs. Eating enough of the right nutrients, including energy and protein, can help older people to stay independent, active and promote longevity.
Lite n’ Easy offers affordable, high quality meal solutions designed to promote well-being and a better quality of life for all Australians. Give us a call on 13 15 12 for more information or order online now. There’s also a range of other flexible options available, meaning you can choose any combination of our meals to suit your lifestyle needs and budget. Give us a call on 13 15 12 or order online now.
Melissa Holloway is an Accredited Practising Dietitian with extensive experience working in foodservice across a range of industries including aged care, elite sport and in hospitals. She is passionate about ensuring people have access to not only fresh and healthy food options, but also that people get to choose food that they truly enjoy. As a busy Mum, Melissa loves preparing healthy and delicious food for her family.