Nutrition for Older People

Tick Dietitian Rebecca McLean discusses why good nutrition and physical activity are important as we get older

Nutrition for older people is becoming increasingly important in New Zealand as people aged 65 and over make up a large and growing proportion of the population.

Health status is closely related to the ageing process, and good nutrition is one factor that can have beneficial effects on the rate of the ageing process.
The New Zealand Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Older People recommend those over 65 eat at least:

  • 5 servings per day of fruit and vegetables
  • 6 servings per day of breads and cereals (preferably wholegrain)
  • 3 servings per day of milk and milk products
  • 1 serving per day of lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, and legumes

The recommended servings of milk and milk products per day is higher than that for those under 65 (which is 2 servings) due to the increased dietary requirements for protein, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin D and calcium in the older age groups. Milk and milk products contain these nutrients.

Examples of serving sizes for milk and milk products include1 large glass of milk (250ml)

  • 1 pottle of yoghurt (150g)
  • 2 slices of cheese (40g)
  • 2 scoops of ice cream (140g)

Choosing low or reduced fat milk and milk products is recommended, particularly for those who are trying to lose weight

As we get older our bone density can weaken and calcium and vitamin D is essential for keeping bones strong and preventing fractures. Dietary requirements for vitamin D double for both men and women in the 51-70 year age group.

Most adults receive vitamin D from the sun, however there are also some dietary sources including: milk and milk products, oily fish (e.g. salmon, tuna) and eggs. Vitamin D may also be added to some foods including: margarine, milk, yoghurt and soy drinks.

Women need to start increasing their calcium intake 20 years earlier than men, with women requiring more at age 51 and men at age 70. Milk and milk products are the main dietary sources of calcium; other sources include broccoli, dried fruit, canned fish and nuts.

Physical activity, particularly resistance exercise, also plays an important role in the retention of bone density.

Other benefits of exercise in older people include improved appetite, carbohydrate metabolism and bowel function, decreased cardiovascular risk and slowed rate of muscle loss. Older people should be aiming to do 30 minutes of aerobic physical activity on five days each week, e.g. brisk walking, dancing, cycling and swimming. In addition, two sessions of resistance activity should be undertaken each week, e.g. lifting shopping, weight training or standing up and sitting down repeatedly.

A combination of good nutrition and regular physical activity are very important throughout all stages of life but deserve special attention as people reach older age. Good nutrition is essential for good health and in combination with physical activity can result in improved quality of life.