Healthy eating for later years

Good nutrition is important throughout all stages of our life - childhood, adolescence, adulthood and the later years. Becoming older, you may find that you experience some difficulties with eating and digestion. This information has been written to help you with food choices to overcome those difficulties.

Some changes you may experience:

  • Difficulty in chewing and swallowing, because of loss of teeth, having dentures fitted or loss of saliva.
  • Decrease in smell and taste which may cause a loss of appetite.
  • Sensitive digestion - some foods may cause more flatulence and indigestion.
  • Constipation.
  • Slow wound healing.
  • Weight gain or weight loss.

Guidelines for achieving a healthy diet:

Eat smaller meals and have small snacks during the day.

This will help you if you do not have a good appetite.

Eat a variety of foods.

It's important to keep your meals different and interesting, so that you don't get bored. This way you are more likely to get all the nutrients that you need on a daily basis.

Protein is important to include with meals as it will help to keep your muscle mass and strength.

Some proteins, such as steak, can be difficult to eat and to digest. Choose softer proteins such as: boiled or poached eggs, minced beef, grilled fish, roast chicken, sweetmilk cheese and cottage cheese.

Dairy is extremely important to include as it provides calcium and protein. Calcium is essential for maintaining bone strength. Choose lower fat dairy products as these will be better tolerated, i.e. low fat milk, skim milk or skim milk powder. Yoghurt is great with breakfast or as a snack with fruit.

If you do not eat dairy products, it will be important for you to take a supplement that contains calcium, magnesium and vitamin D.

Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit everyday.

You need the vitamins and minerals found in vegetables and fruit to help prevent illness and to promote wound healing.

Since you may not be able to tolerate a lot of roughage (fibre), choose vegetables and fruit with softer fibre and without hard skins, for example:

  • Choose vegetables such as butternut, pumpkin, gem squash, baby marrow, mashed split peas or spinach with white sauce.
  • Choose softer fruits, e.g. bananas, pawpaw, soft melon, soft pears, peeled apples, naartjies, mango or strawberries.
  • Fruit tinned in fruit juice makes an enjoyable dessert. If you eat dried fruit, rather stew it until very soft as this will be easier to chew and digest.

Make starchy foods part of most meals.

Starches provide energy and roughage (fibre) which helps the stomach to work regularly.

If you have any bloating or discomfort, you may also find that it is better to choose starches with ''softer'' fibre, such as:
Brown bread instead of wholewheat bread. Toasted bread is also often easier to digest.

  • Baby potatoes which have soft skin and sweet potatoes.
  • Oats and Maltabella porridge.
  • Cereals such as bran flakes, wheat flakes, wholewheat instant cereal and puffed wheat - instead of muesli.
  • Brown rice.
  • Some legumes that are in a softer form can be included. You may want to have them on their own or include them with other protein dishes, e.g. baked beans in tomato sauce, split lentils with mince or soya mince.

Use fat sparingly; use vegetable oils rather than hard fats

Excess fat may cause indigestion. Saturated fat found in red meat, chicken skin and full cream dairy products may raise the level of cholesterol in the blood. It is best to limit saturated fat and also use lower fat cooking methods, such as grilling and baking instead of frying.

Limit the use of butter, hard margarine and food with hidden fat, such as pies, pastries and polony. Some fats are healthier and can be included daily, such as a little olive, sunflower or canola oil, avocados or sunflower seeds.

Eat dry beans, split-peas, lentils and soya regularly.

These foods are very high in roughage and also contain protein, which keeps muscles strong.
Tips on including these foods are:

  • Fish, chicken, lean meat or eggs could be eaten daily:
  • These foods are high in protein. Choose low fat forms and cook them without adding too much fat. Keep portions moderate.

Some tips:
Remove the fat from meat and skin from chicken.

  • Grill chicken, fish and meat instead of frying
  • Add flavour in the form of herbs, lemon juice, garlic, ginger or chillies
  • Choose low fat or skim milk, yoghurt and cheese
  • Boil or poach eggs rather than frying
  • Include beans, lentils or soya with some meals instead of eating animal protein with all meals!

Have milk, maas or yoghurt everyday:

Dairy foods provide your body with calcium which is important for strong bones and teeth, muscle and nerve function, blood clotting and hormone release.

Use salt and food high in salt sparingly.

You may find that because you cannot taste food as well as you used to, you are now using more salt. Be careful of this because eating too much salt may raise blood pressure. Rather use herbs, garlic, ginger or lemon juice to add flavour to your food. Try to avoid packet soups and sauces as these also contain high amounts of salt. Avoid extremely spicy foods which may cause heartburn.

Drink lots of clean, safe water.

Water helps to soften the roughage in food and helps it to move along the digestive tract, therefore drinking water will help relieve constipation. It is a good idea to try and drink more water during the day and limit evening drinks, so that you do not have to be up too many times during the night!

How much water is enough? Try to drink at least 6 - 8 glasses of fluid during the day. Here's an example:

1 glass of fruit juice with breakfast; 1 glass of water + 1 - 2 cups of tea mid-morning;

2 glasses of water + 1 cup of tea mid-afternoon; 1 cup of herbal tea or milk in the early evening.

If you are not eating well, it may be easier to drink something - visit your pharmacy and ask for a good nutritional powder that you can drink with water or milk. If you would like a supplement, choose a general multivitamin and mineral supplement that is affordable.

**If you need more advice, click on the ''Ask the Dietitian'' to pose a question to our Registered Dietitian

Disclaimer: The information contained in this website is provided by the SPAR Group Ltd for general information purposes only. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.