Older adults

As you grow older, it’s as important as ever to eat well. The right diet can help you feel better and stay more active. If you have a specific health condition, then your doctor will advise you on the diet that’s best for you. But if you’re in good health, then the usual healthy eating guidelines apply. 

It's important that you keep active too if you can. Walking, gardening, dancing and climbing stairs all count. Staying active helps keep older bodies flexible and is the best way to keep your appetite. There are a few little extras to consider in your later years too…

Healthy bones

We often think of children and young people when we talk about needing calcium for strong bones. But the truth is we need to look after our bones just as much as we grow older. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D helps to protect your bones and keep them strong.

Dairy foods like milk, cheese and yoghurt are the best sources of calcium. Other good sources of calcium are:

  • Tinned fish with the bones (like sardines or salmon)
  • Green leafy vegetables (like broccoli or cabbage, but not spinach)
  • Soya beans and tofu

Make sure to eat some calcium-rich foods every day.

Vitamin D helps your body to use the calcium you get from food. This vitamin is actually made in our bodies when we expose our skin to the summer sunlight. We also get it from:

  • Oily fish like herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon and trout (oily fish are also great for heart health)
  • Egg yolks
  • Some brands of milk and dairy spreads which have vitamin D added (check the label)

You may not be getting enough vitamin D if you are over 65 and:

  • rarely get outdoors, or wear clothes that cover all of your skin when you are outdoors
  • are of Asian origin
  • eat no meat or oily fish

Speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you are concerned. Some older people will need to take a supplement of 10μg (micrograms) of vitamin D each day.

Fibre and a healthy gut

an elderly couple eating outsideWhen it comes to preventing constipation and keeping your gut healthy, fibre is the way to go. But many of us don’t eat enough fibre. Here are some simple tips to keep your digestion healthy:

  • Switch from white starchy foods (like white bread, pasta or rice) to the wholegrain versions (wholegrain bread, wholewheat pasta, brown rice and wholegrain cereals)
  • Eat four portions of fruit and vegetables each day
  • Include peas, beans and lentils in your diet
  • Try to drink 8 glasses of fluids each day. Water and milk are best

Eating less

As you get older, your appetite may get smaller. This is quite normal – you’re probably not as active as you used to be, so you’ll need less food for energy. But you should still eat enough nutritious food each day to keep you in good health.

Try to eat at least three times a day. If you find it hard to have full meals, try smaller meals with nutritious snacks in between.

Healthy snack ideas

  • Wholegrain toast with heated baked beans, a slice of cheese or sliced banana
  • Small bowl of home-made soup
  • Wholegrain breeakfast cereal or porridge with semi-skimmed milk
  • Cheese and crackers
  • A piece of fruit or chopped fruit pieces
  • Chopped raw vegetables like carrots or peppers, or a handful of small cherry tomatoes
  • Scones, currant buns and fruit breads

If you don’t feel like cooking, why not make more use of the microwave? It’s great for heating up leftovers from your freezer and for heating ready-made meals. Make sure to heat foods until they’re piping hot all the way through.

Looking after your teeth

Visit your dentist regularly to keep your teeth in good condition. If you wear dentures or have problems chewing, you may be put off eating raw fruit or vegetables. If this is the case, go for tinned or stewed fruit and vegetables instead. They’re softer and easier to chew, but still have all of the goodness.

Cooking for one

It’s easy to get by on bread, butter and tea alone when you’re on your own in the house. But try to cook something for yourself most days if you can. Here are a few tips to make it easier:

  • Invite some family or friends around for dinner
  • Try casserole dishes – there’s less preparation when you throw in the meat, veggies and potatoes all at once
  • Cook large amounts, then freeze some individual portions to eat later
  • Keep a well-stocked food cupboard so that you always have some ingredients to hand to make meal. 

Our cupboard contains:

  • Rice, pasta, noodles, instant mash, porridge, breakfast cereals
  • Tinned vegetables (e.g. sweetcorn, tomatoes), fruit tinned in its own juice, tinned or packet soups
  • Dried milk powder, evaporated or condensed milk (can be used if you run out of fresh milk), tinned rice pudding, ready-made or tinned custard
  • Corned beef, tinned fish (e.g. tuna, mackerel, sardines), baked beans, tinned peas, tinned pulses (like kidney beans, butten beans, chickpeas, lentils)
  • Stock cubes, gravy granules, tomato sauce and puree, dried herbs, pepper, tea, coffee, sugar or sweetener, cocoa/drinking chocolate, jelly, plain biscuits

You’ll find some tasty and traditional recipes on our recipe pages.

Getting help in the home

Some older adults find it hard to move around because of stiff joints or arthritis. This can make it difficult to prepare or cook foods. If you’re having problems, ask your doctor for help.