Adults and elderly adults
By the time we reach adulthood, the majority of our growth and development will be well and truly over, meaning the focus of nutrition can now shift to maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. In doing this, adults will be able to keep the risk of developing age and weight related diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes to an absolute minimum.
Adults should really know and understand their dietary needs by this stage of their lives. The high number of adults who are clued up about what they should be eating unfortunately does not correlate with the number of adults who are actually implementing this knowledge, with many consuming too much of the wrong things such as saturated fat, sugar and salt.
Adults who are serious about achieving a healthier lifestyle need to be proactive and use their knowledge of food and nutrition to help them on their way towards their goals.
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Older adults and the elderly
According to 2010 mid-year population estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in the 25 years between 1984 and 2009, the percentage of the population aged 65 and over increased by 1 per cent, from 15 per cent in 1984 to 16 per cent in 2009 (an increase of 1.7 million people).
The same figures also show that the biggest increase has been among those aged over 85, with the number rising from 660,000 in 1984 to 1.4 million in 2009. The ONS estimate that by 2034, the number of individuals over the age of 85 will be 2.5 times greater than in 2009, reaching 3.5 million and making up 5 per cent of the total population.
Though it is positive to see that more people are reaching retirement age and older adults are living longer, in the future the UK's ageing population may result in greater numbers in ill health which will subsequently put pressure upon care services.
The nutritional needs and dietary requirements of older adults are quite different to that of young and middle-aged adults, and require a different approach. Whilst many older and elderly adults attempt to keep as fit and active as their bodies will allow, others may be frail and will require additional care and support from family, friends and health initiatives.
As we age our body's will change and we will begin to face a variety of challenges and limitations which may pose risks to our health and nutrition. Reduced mobility will mean shopping for food will become more difficult, especially if shops are not within walking distance and public transport in the area is poor. Further problems may involve a low food budget meaning there is little choice in terms of food variety, and single adults may feel unmotivated to cook for one or may lack cooking skills.
In extreme cases elderly individuals could become malnourished, resulting in the prevention of recovery from illness and an increased likelihood of developing more health problems. Additional adverse side effects may include fatigue and psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.
The best way for an elderly individual to maintain optimum levels of health is to eat a balanced diet which caters to the specific nutritive needs of their age group.
No matter what age we are the body needs a diet made up of lots of healthy and nutritious foods in order to function correctly. The basic components of any diet should include a combination of the following:
- Protein from meat, fish, eggs and pulses.
- Five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
- Carbohydrates from brown rice, potatoes, cereals, wholewheat pasta and couscous.
What we need to avoid also remains the same as we age and it is advisable to limit the amount of salt and alcohol we consume.
However, though the basics remain the same, it is also important that we endeavour to include other specific nutrients in our diet which help the body to remain healthy as we age.
Important vitamins, minerals and food groups
There are certain nutrients which become particularly important as we get older, including the following:
Calcium is an essential component for the maintenance of healthy bones, but unfortunately may begin to be reabsorbed back into the body from the bones as we get older. This condition is known as osteoporosis and eventually leads to weakening of the bone tissue which leaves bones brittle and fragile. In order to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and to keep the bones healthy, individuals can obtain calcium from milk and dairy foods such as yogurt and cheese, leafy green vegetables and calcium fortified cereals.
Older people who are fit, well and within a healthy weight range should minimise saturated fat intake to improve heart health. However, elderly adults who are above the age of 75 may find that fat restriction is not beneficial, especially if a person is frail, below a healthy weight or has a small appetite. In some cases extra fat may actually be required to increase the number of calories consumed and to aid weight gain. Elderly adults wishing to gain weight should always consult their healthcare provider or a qualified nutritionist before making any significant changes to their diet.
Bowel problems can become an issue as we age and many older and elderly adults do suffer from constipation. In order to keep bowel issues and irritations to a minimum, older adults should include an adequate amount of fibre in their diets as this will help to ensure the digestive system is healthy and in working order. Good sources of fibre include wholegrain cereal, porridge, wholegrain bread, brown pasta and rice, fresh fruit and vegetables and pulses. Also remember to drink plenty of fluids as this will help the gut to function properly.
As we get older the body's ability to conserve water gradually decreases and the perception of thirst becomes less sensitive. However, dehydration can result in drowsiness and confusion among other side effects so it is important to keep hydrated throughout the day even if we don't feel thirsty. Fluid intake does not necessarily mean just water and can also include hot drinks such as tea and coffee, fruit juice or squash.
Iron can be found in meat, some vegetables and dried fruit. The body uses it to make haemoglobin, which helps to store and carry oxygen in the red blood cells from the lungs to the rest of the body. Without iron in the blood, the organs and tissue receive less oxygen than they usually would leading to tiredness and lethargy (this is known as iron deficiency anaemia).
This vitamin assists the body in its formation of collagen, which is needed to heal wounds and repair bones and teeth. It's also needed to make skin, ligaments, blood vessels and tendons and it's antioxidant properties are thought to help in the prevention of heart disease and cancer.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are the main source of vitamin C but supplements can also be taken to keep levels topped up.
Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium thus slowing the rate of calcium loss from bones. A key source of Vitamin D is exposure to sunlight, though it is important to supplement your diet with foods which are rich in the nutrient such as oily fish, eggs and certain fortified cereals and spreads. As you get older you may need to introduce a vitamin D supplement to your diet as your body may be unable to process enough from the sunlight and your diet alone. The Department of Health has recommended that people aged 65 and over should take a daily 10 microgram vitamin D supplement.
Zinc is required for the maintenance of a healthy immune system and is most commonly found in meat, shellfish, wholemeal bread and pulses.
As mentioned previously, getting older can change our attitude and approach to food and it is not uncommon for a person's appetite to diminish as they age. Even if you don't feel hungry it is still important to make sure your body has the energy and nutrients it needs. Below are some helpful tips for healthy eating throughout life's later years:
If you can't manage to eat three meals a day then try smaller meals and more frequent snacks. Try not to snack on cake and biscuits and instead opt for fruit, vegetables, and wholegrain toast etc. Some nutritious and easy snack ideas include porridge which can be bought in boxes of single serving sachets, sardines on toast as tinned sardines can be stored for a long time and beans on toast or soup as again the key components are long life.
Cooking for one can be a demotivating for many elderly adults and can also result in food wastage. Instead of buying ready meals for one why not cook a large meal such as a stew, shepherds pie or lasagne, spilt into individual portions and freeze for future meals. You can freeze a huge array of foods nowadays, from quiches through to fresh soups, meat and fish so check the guidelines and really utilise your freezer.
Long life foods
Don't be put off by buying long life and frozen foods as they can be equally as nutritious as buying fresh produce. If you can't get out to the shops every few days to buy fresh fruit and vegetables then ensure you have a good stash of tinned and frozen foods. They make food preparation easier and are great for times when you are unable to get to the supermarket. Other useful store cupboard foods include:
- crackers, oatcakes and rice crackers
- drinks: Malted drinks, meal-replacement drinks, fruit juices
- gravy and stock cubes
- instant mashed potato
- milk: Either long-life, dried or evaporated and rice pudding
- meat, fish and pulses: Canned tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines and stewed meat, ham and corned beef
- packet sauces or jars
- pasta and rice
- pickles, jams, chutneys, peanut butter, honey
Older and elderly adults who are struggling to maintain a healthy and balanced diet may find they could benefit from the guidance and support of a nutritionist. A qualified nutritionist will be able to identify any specific deficiencies so that they can be corrected and will work with their patient to formulate a nutrition programme to suit the patients individual needs. This may include food and meal recommendations as well as ideas for gentle activities for elderly patients to improve their mobility.
A qualified nutritionist will be fully aware of the challenges older and elderly adults face such as difficulty getting to the shops and a loss of appetite, and will be taking these into account so that any changes they would like to introduce in the nutritional program are achievable.
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