Your nutrition needs change with age, as it becomes critical to incorporate healthy habits to better support your physical and cognitive health.
Dietitian Ngaire Hobbins debunks the top myths when it comes to your diet.
1. Your stomach shrinks as you get older
Although your appetite and your capacity to eat may change, your stomach doesn’t shrink as you get older. In fact, not eating well enough only accelerates the ageing process.
2. Weight loss is healthy
Unfortunately, this is not always the case when we are older. Instead, dieting or unintentional weight loss should be avoided in our later years, with any weight loss a natural result of combining good exercise with an eating plan rich in protein.
In fact, a bit of extra padding is beneficial to support your body and brain in the years ahead.
3. You need to eat less as you get older
Whilst your metabolism slows and your energy output decreases, food and eating is what protects and fuels you — it is your key to ageing well.
As you age, you may need to eat less of some things, and your body will need more of others, particularly foods rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals.
4. Only eat what you feel like
The ageing process can play tricks on our appetite and the triggers that tell us if we are hungry or full. As a result, you might eat less than what your bodies really need. It’s important to realise the vital importance of continuing to eat despite the tricks, so your body gets the energy and nutrients it needs to function.
An outright loss of appetite is not normal, and could be symptomatic of an underlying health problem. If you are having trouble eating enough, try to eat small meals regularly throughout the day, even if you don’t always feel like it.
5. You need a low-fat diet
Contrary to deeply entrenched popular opinion, a low-fat diet is not always the best, especially as you get older. Fat is an important source of calories and some people might need to eat a bit extra to maintain weight.
For most, however, eating foods that contain mostly unsaturated fats is best for heart, body, and brain health. Fats found in foods such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, and oily fish are ideal.
6. Eat more vegetables
Whilst nutrient-rich vegetables continue to be essential in your diet, protein needs to be at the centre of your plate, with the vegetables surrounding it from now on. That’s because you need more — not less — protein as you get older.
Eating protein-rich foods such as meat, eggs and legumes is incredibly important as we age
Protein keeps our muscles, immune system, organs, and brains — all our systems — working and renewing minute by minute. Vegetables are always important, but if your appetite is small, ensure you get the protein in first, then enjoy the vegetables.
7. You only need to drink water when you’re thirsty
If you feel thirsty, you are already a bit dehydrated. That’s a problem because neither your body nor your brain can function at peak capacity if you are dehydrated. Dehydration can cause confusion and delirium, hampers kidney function, and worsens a multitude of other conditions. As you get older, you may not sense thirst as efficiently, putting them at greater risk of dehydration and making fluid intake an essential element of overall nutrition.
8. Supplements are sufficient
Of course, we can’t live off vitamins and supplement tablets alone. Your body works best when it is working — that means eating and digesting food. What’s more, most supplements promoted to help you live longer, boost memory, fight off dementia and more, fail to live up to their claims.
And there’s another problem — many interact with common medications or just don’t work the way they would if you ate them in the foods they are naturally found in.
You could spend a lot of money for no gain when you could do better by simply eating. Not only that, but you would miss out on one of life’s greatest pleasures — cooking and eating with family and friends.
9. You must always eat a “proper meal”
Making sure you eat regularly is essential to help you live well and remain independent. However, eating three full meals a day can be a struggle if you have a loss of appetite, or find cooking too difficult or time-consuming.
You can opt for prepackaged meals, frozen dinners, or takeaway foods, but some of these don’t contain the protein and other nutrients necessary to support ageing bodies and brains; others are high in sodium or saturated fats. If three good meals are too much of a challenge, five to six small meals or well-chosen snacks can be just as beneficial.
10. Malnutrition is part of getting older
Malnutrition can affect anyone — at any age — and is not a normal part of the ageing process. However, with age comes a greater risk of malnutrition and it’s important that you don’t dismiss the warning signs as being a part of “old age”.
For more information on healthy habits for eating well, read the full nutrition guide.
What healthy habits have you tried to incorporate into your life?