We love to eat. That’s a fact. Whether it’s a delicious cheesecake or a feel-good salad, eating can be our favourite part of the day. But how will our nutritional needs and appetite change as we get older?
According to dietician and author Ngaire Hobbins, the biggest health concern that most people have about ageing is becoming frail – which makes sense. We would all love to be independent in older age. And, Ngaire says, the key to being able to stay at home and maintain health with age is in what you eat.
“Many health messages are targeted towards younger people, but people’s needs are vastly different after 65."
Top nutrition myths for ageing
MYTH #1: Your stomach shrinks as you age
“Although your appetite may change, your stomach doesn’t shrink when you get older,” Ngaire says. This means you don’t need to eat less as you get older, even if you don't feel hungry.
“The ageing process can play tricks on our appetite and as a result, older people might eat less than their bodies really need. An outright loss of appetite is not normal, and could be symptomatic of an underlying health problem. Try to eat small meals regularly throughout the day, even if you don’t always feel like it. Snacks such as cheese, biscuits, and yoghurt with nuts are great for boosting your appetite.”
MYTH #2: You should follow a low-fat diet
“Fat is an important source of calories and some seniors might need to eat a bit extra to maintain weight. Fats found in foods such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, and oily fish are ideal.”
Also, protein is a key brain food. Ngaire says that while younger people are generally good at eating protein, it’s something that older people have to be more aware of. Breakfast is a great meal to up your protein intake – and Ngaire agrees with the saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
MYTH #3: Only drink water when you’re thirsty
“If you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated and that’s a problem as neither your body nor brain can work at peak capacity. Dehydration can bring on confusion and delirium, hampers kidney function and worsens a multitude of other conditions.”
MYTH #4: Supplements are sufficient
It can be pretty tempting walking into the chemist and seeing rows and rows of bottles filled with pills that promise to boost your memory and more, but Ngaire says they could be a waste of money. "Your body is good at recognising and regulating nutrients naturally … You could spend a lot of money for no gain when you could do better by simply eating," she says. In fact, they could be doing more harm than good; “Supplements can mess up your natural balance and effect medication.” Ngaire recommends always speaking with your doctor before taking supplements.
MYTH #5: You must always eat a ‘proper meal’
“Eating three full meals a day can be a struggle if you have a loss of appetite or find cooking too difficult. Five or six small meals or well-chosen snacks can be just as beneficial.”
One way to achieve this is by staying social – there's always food at events, or catching up with friends over afternoon tea!
Finally Ngaire suggests that no matter what age you are, it's important to keep up exercise, and "staying active also means you generally eat better."
Ngaire teamed up with in-home care provider Home Instead Senior Care to launch its newest resource, Nutrition for Seniors, which provides practical and sensible advice for older people. For more information visit www.homeinstead.com.au
Sydney-based Hannah Oakshott is a tea-obsessed pop culture enthusiast who can usually be found showing people pictures of her two miniature schnauzers or baking sweet, lemony food. Hannah is on Instagram @hannah.mareeee