Making wise food choices

As we get older, lifestyle and appetite changes may lead to poor eating habits. Here are some important eating tips to help with healthy aging.

As we get older we often need fewer kilojoules because we are less active than when we were younger. However, we still need a similar amount of nutrients, sometimes more. This change in dietary needs means our food choices must be nutrient-dense, and at the same time, appetising and enjoyable in order to maintain a healthy, regular appetite.

1. Enjoy a variety of foods. Appetite can often decrease as we get older, so eating a variety of foods can help keep food interesting. Eat foods that are high in nutrients from all five food groups on a daily basis, including:

♦ plenty of vegetables, legumes (e.g. baked beans, kidney beans and chickpeas) and fruit;

♦ plenty of cereals, including breads, rice, pasta and noodles – preferably wholegrain;

♦ lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives;

♦ milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternative – choose low-fat varieties where possible.

Discretionary foods, such as lollies, chocolates, soft drinks and cakes, do not fit into the food groups. These are not needed for our bodies, and should only be eaten every now and then, or in small amounts.

2. Drink plenty of water. As we get older, we often don’t feel thirsty even when our body wants fluid. We need to take regular drinks, which can include water and other drinks such as soda water, fruit juice and milk. Small amounts of tea and coffee can also be included.

3. Make changes for good health
Fibre: Choose foods that are high in fibre, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholegrain varieties of bread and cereals, to encourage good bowel health.

Protein: Be sure to eat protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, soybeans and nuts. Our need for protein increases when we reach our 70s – protein in the diet helps heal wounds, which can be important as older people often undergo more injuries and surgeries.

Calcium: Enjoy foods high in calcium such as low-fat milk, cheese, custard and
yoghurt to help prevent or slow the progression of osteoporosis. Calcium-enriched soy milk and fish with soft, edible bones such as canned salmon or sardines, are also good sources of calcium.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is also important in bone health for older adults. We mainly get vitamin D from sunlight, and smaller amounts from foods including: margarine, dairy products, oily fish, cheese and eggs. If you are mostly confined indoors and don’t get much exposure to sunlight, you should seek advice from a medical professional about vitamin D supplements.

Limit saturated fats and salt: Limit the saturated fats you eat and keep an eye on your total fat intake. Limit the use of salt and choose foods that are low in salt. As the years go by, sadly our sense of taste can decrease. But rather than adding
salt, have a look at other ways to add flavour to foods, such as with spices or fresh herbs.

4. Eat to match your lifestyle: The amount and types of foods we eat can be affected by the changes to our lifestyle as we get older. These may include: not having the energy or motivation to prepare food, feeling lonely or anxious, not feeling hungry, having problems swallowing or chewing, decreased sense of taste, and not being as physically active. These lifestyle changes often lead to skipping meals and generally eating poorly, so utilise strategies and simple ways to encourage regular meals.

5. Tips for eating regularly
♦ Eat meals at a similar time each day to build a routine.

♦ Use pre-made foods such as frozen vegetables, tinned fruit or ready-made meals (go for the low-salt and low-sugar varieties). These will take less time and energy to prepare.

♦ Eating small, regular meals rather than just a few bigger meals will help you get all the necessary nutrients without having to eat lots of food all at one time.

♦ Avoid drinking with meals as this can fill you up and affect your appetite.

♦ Choosing moist or softer foods when you’re feeling tired means you don’t have to use as much effort to chew and swallow.

♦ Adding herbs, spices and condiments (such as lemon juice) to meals adds flavour.

♦ Ask for help from friends, family or other community services such as Meals-on-Wheels.

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