How to eat well, to age well.
When many of us hear the words “malnutrition”, we may think that the problem is very far from us. Sadly, malnutrition is a problem that impacts many older Australians and it might be affecting our parents, grandparents or even ourselves.
Often people may lose weight unintentionally as they get older, however, this is not a healthy part of ageing. In fact, the evidence suggests that as we age it is better to carry a little extra weight to help see us through times of illness when our appetite may not be at its best.
There are a number of factors that impact our eating habits as we age. This may include medical conditions, decreased appetite, swallowing and chewing difficulties, loneliness or apathy. As we get older, it is even more important that we provide our body with enough of the right nutrients. This is because malnutrition can lead to a number of other problems including poor immunity and wound healing as well as increased risk of osteoporosis, falls and fractures.
Eating the right foods each day will provide your body with enough protein and Calories to prevent muscle and weight loss and reduce your risk of malnutrition. As we age, maintaining muscle mass and a healthy weight can help to stay independent, active and most importantly promote longevity.
How to help prevent weight loss and maintain muscle mass
To help prevent weight loss and maintain muscle mass, there are two important nutrients that we need to make sure we are getting enough of. These nutrients are energy (Calories) and protein.
Energy refers to the Calories in our food and drinks. Some foods have more Calories than others. Consuming enough Calories each day will make sure that you don’t lose weight and reduce the risk of malnutrition. To maintain weight, ensure that you include Calorie dense foods such as:
- Full fat dairy products
- Butter or margarine
- Vegetable oils
- Dried fruit
Protein is used to build, maintain and repair tissues in the body, including our muscles. It can also be used as a source of energy. Having enough protein will prevent loss of muscle mass, which is very important. Decreased muscle mass can mean loss of strength and power, which may impact your ability to carry out daily activities such as moving from sitting to standing, your ability to open jars and just generally care for yourself. Loss of strength can also lead to frailty, which increases your risk of falls and fractures. To maintain muscle mass, ensure that you include high protein foods such as:
- Meat, chicken, fish
- Milk, cheese, yoghurt and custard
- Nuts and nut butters
Is eating three meals a day important?
In short, YES! Skipping meals on a regular basis can lead to poor nutrition, muscle and weight loss.
If you have a smaller appetite, it is important that you do not wait to feel hungry and instead try to eat something every 2 to 3 hours. You should aim to have small, frequent meals and eat foods that are naturally higher in Calories and protein.
Some ways to increase your Calories and protein intake across the day:
- Add custard, yoghurt or cream to snacks and meals.
- Serve vegetables with a drizzle of oil or some melted cheese.
- Spread toast or sandwiches thickly with butter and other spreads.
- Avoid filling up on watery drinks such as tea or coffee, or even water. You can enjoy those beverages when you’re not eating.
- Snack on high protein and Calorie dense foods such as a handful of nuts, cheese crackers, some toast with thick cream cheese or peanut butter, yogurt or a milkshake.
- Find favourites and add flavour. Adding your favourite chutney or sauces, or citrus or other herbs, spices and seasoning to boost the flavour of the meals.
Taste and variety
Of course, foods are only nutritious if they’re actually consumed, so flavour and presentation are important for people of any age. As we get older, we don’t stop caring about how our food looks and tastes. Food should continue to be a source of pleasure and enjoyment throughout life.
It’s also important to have a varied diet, not only to keep interested in what we are eating, but also to achieve nutritional balance. Consuming a variety of different foods helps us to create a robust and healthy gut microbiome, maximise our nutrient intake and avoid deficiencies.
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. Give us a call on 13 15 12 or click here to order now.
Sarah Cinar is a recent Master of Dietetics graduate and a passionate advocate for nutritious and delicious food. She has a keen interest in nutrition research and loves to help others achieve their healthy lifestyle goals. Sarah has experience in a variety of areas including sports nutrition, research and health promotion. Her food philosophy stems from her love for food and culture and believes that variety, balance and moderation is key to healthy eating.