Here are ten ways to help you eat healthier in your later years.
1. Enjoy your food. A little of what you fancy helps in keeping to a healthy diet. But too many indulgences will only make you feel unwell over time. Keep some foods as occasional treats – that means they retain their value as something to look forward to.
2. Eat a variety of foods. Eat from the main food groups to ensure your diet contains as many different nutrients as possible. This means lots of fruits and vegetables and enough starchy foods for energy- grainy or brown carbohydrate foods are particularly healthy. Also include some calcium-rich foods in your diet such as dairy foods, and protein foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, or vegetarian protein foods such as beans, lentils or meat substitute products.
3. Become ‘salt aware’. Be cautious with the amount of salt you add during cooking or at the table. If food seems to taste a bit bland, choose an alternative to salt such as adding spices or dried/fresh herbs during cooking, or using a dash of lemon juice. Many products have information about salt content on the front of the packet: try to choose those that contain less salt.
4. Drink adequate amounts. This does not just need to be water, although the stuff out the tap really is the best way to hydrate. Cups of tea or coffee or well-diluted squash are all excellent ways to get enough fluid. Fruit juice/smoothies are fine in small amounts, but they can be a concentrated source of sugars and calories, and are not always as hydrating. It is important to drink a bit more in hot weather. If your urine is a pale-straw colour, then you are drinking enough.
5. Get your daily dose of Vitamin D. This vitamin is important for good bone health. Many people get vitamin D from exposure of skin to sun, so getting outside on a sunny day is important. Skin becomes less efficient at producing vitamin D as you get older – official advice states that everyone over the age of 65 should take a daily supplement of vitamin D (10 micrograms per day). Oily fish, fortified margarine, and eggs contain vitamin D, so try to eat some of these regularly.
6. Increase your fibre intake. The best way to do this is to have oats/grainy-brown cereals for breakfast, and then lots of fruits, vegetables and salads throughout the day. Fruits can be tinned, stewed, mashed or baked; vegetables can be tinned or from frozen, in soups/stews or as sides. Drinking enough helps fibre to fill out. If being constipated is a problem, choosing a bran cereal for breakfast is helpful, as is opting for wholemeal bread.
7. Keep a stock of basic food items. This will help you to eat well even if you can’t get to the shops. It is helpful to have foods in the cupboard that are easy to open and quick to prepare, such as tinned and long life foods. Keep a list of usual favourite foods to allow family members/carers to more easily buy foods you like should you be feeling unwell. Local grocery stores may also be able to deliver food to you if you are unable to visit the shops.
8. Try not to skip meals. Have breakfast and if appetite is low, to have light snack meals later in the day rather than eating late at night and then not being able to eat in the morning. If you cannot face a cooked meal, then snack on small portions of nutritious foods such as tinned fruit, custard, egg and toast or a small portion of plain rice or pasta with a few beans or tomatoes.
9. Alcohol in moderation. Small amounts of wine with meals can add to enjoyment of the food, and also help relaxation. However larger amounts of alcoholic drink depresses appetite and depresses mood, and regularly drinking to excess leads to many health problems. Try to keep to the safe drinking limits, and try to have a least several days a week without alcohol.
10. Supplements can be helpful. Supplements only ‘supplement’ nutrients in the diet – they do not replace many of the essential components found in a balanced diet. A vitamin D supplement is recommended. If appetite is poor, or getting enough of some food groups is a challenge, then a general one-a-day multivitamin product helps to ensure adequate consumption of nutrients. Fish oil supplements are a useful additional source of omega 3 fatty acids – especially for people who are not keen on the one-a-week portion of oily fish, which is recommended for good health.