The fact that 16% of the current population in the UK are aged over 65 years, it is clear that life expectancy has increased and nearly doubled over the past 2 centuries. Even more interesting is the fact that people aged 85 years and over are also making up a significant percentage of the population. However, this increased life expectancy is not necessarily beneficial as health and quality of life are diminished in people of an older age.
The physical changes that the body experiences through ageing can impact how we eat. Not only can this lead to a lack of appetite and eating less, but those in live in care jobs have noticed that access to a healthy diet may be restricted, resulting in a nutritional deficiency. A healthy eating plan and exercise are critical to defending the body against a variety of age-related illnesses, diseases and health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, bone and joint conditions, poor oral and dental health as well as cognitive decline.
It is important to understand how diet affects the body as it ages and to dispel the misconception related to diet and ageing:
The stomach shrinks as you age. Your stomach does not get smaller as you get older and it is a reduction in appetite as well as the volume that can be consumed that changes.
We need less food the older we get
It does not follow that you expend less energy as you age and therefore need to consume less food. Although the metabolism (the rate that food is turned into energy) may decrease, your body still requires energy to function and to defend against illness. Eating healthy food is essential to ageing well.
Weight gain is unhealthy
Losing weight and maintaining an ideal weight are primary goals to remain healthy throughout life. However, this is not as optimal as we age. Unless obesity or extreme weight gain is affecting your health, it is not recommended to follow a weight loss plan without the supervision of a doctor, nutritionist or dietician.
Only eat when you are hungry
Ageing can affect the processes that inform our bodies when we are hungry and when we are full. Eating regular meals is important and a lack of appetite could be a symptom of an underlying illness or disease.
You should eat a diet low in fat
Fat is an important part of a healthy, nutritional diet and is essential to certain bodily functions. In fact, eating more healthy fats can be beneficial as we age.
Eating more vegetables
Vegetables are an important source of vitamins, minerals and fibre and should be included in any diet. However, protein is just as important for the muscles, organs, and the brain. A balanced diet is optimal that includes both food groups.
Drink water only if you are thirsty
Hydration is critical to the optimal functioning of the body and thirst is a sign that your body is dehydrated. Dehydration should be avoided and drinking water regularly throughout the day can promote kidney function as well as prevent the other symptoms of dehydration.
Supplementing nutritional requirements is sufficient.
Meal or vitamin supplements may not fulfil the body’s nutritional requirements or may be entirely ineffective. These supplements are also not always healthy and may react with other medications. Enjoying meals with family and friends is far healthier than attempting to supplement your nutritional needs.
You don’t have to eat 3 meals a day
The 3 meals a day rule can be difficult to follow when your appetite is affected by ageing. This said, eating regularly is very important. Smaller meals and healthy snacks throughout the day can be far more beneficial than trying to force yourself to eat larger portions at one sitting.
Malnutrition and age are related
Most people are unaware that they are suffering from malnutrition due to bad nutrition no matter their age, weight, size or other factors. However, the elderly are at a greater risk due to the way in which ageing affects appetite and eating. It is important to be aware of the signs of malnutrition.
Dispelling these misconceptions can go a long way towards assisting people who are ageing and living alone, allowing them to follow a diet that will be beneficial to their overall health and well-being.