Healthy food for over 65s

How does good nutrition help us stay healthy as we age? We explore the link between age-related changes, their impact on our diet and what we should eat to age healthily.

Couple sitting at table eating healthy food

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 ageing.

Maintaining good nutrition is essential to prevent malnutrition, reduce the risk of chronic disease, support physical and mental health and, ultimately, preserve independence.

How do I stay healthy as I get older?

Health includes physical, mental and social wellbeing. As we age, maintaining all three of these is important to help us stay healthy.

As we get older, we experience internal changes to our body and mind, as well as external changes to our social life and lifestyle. All these things can affect what and how we eat and impacts on our nutrition and overall health.

The burden of chronic disease, with many lifestyle-related risk factors, also increases as we age. That's why a combination of good nutrition and regular physical activity are especially important as people get older.

Good nutrition is essential for good health and, in combination with physical activity, can result in improved quality of life.

To stay healthy as we get older, we should:

  • stay active
  • eat a healthy diet
  • be social.

How will good nutrition help as I age?

Not only will good nutrition support your heart health, it will also help you stay healthy as you age. What's most important is the quality of your overall diet and getting the fundamentals of eating a healthy diet right.

Plant foods

We recommend loading up your plate with plant foods like:

Make them the main part of your meals and snacks.

Fibre

Fruit and vegetables provide your body with a great source of dietary fibre to help maintain healthy and regular bowels. As well as fibre, fruit and vegetables contain a range of vitamins and minerals. 

Another great source of dietary fibre includes whole grain breads and cereals. In addition to this, they contain protein, vitamins and minerals, including calcium and iron. 

Calcium

As we get older our bone density can weaken. Calcium and vitamin D is essential for keeping bones strong and preventing fractures. Women need to increase their calcium intake 20 years earlier than men, with women requiring more at age 51 and men at age 70.  Drinking milk and milk products daily will help you meet the increased dietary requirements for protein, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin D and calcium as you get older. 

Milk and milk products are the main dietary sources of calcium, however other sources include broccoli, dried fruit, canned fish and nuts.

Protein

Protein sources such as red meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds help provide amino acids, fats, vitamins and minerals to maintain lean muscle mass.

Tips for a healthy diet

  • Drink plenty of liquids throughout the day, especially water.
  • If you're underweight or have a small appetite, try to eat nutritious snacks throughout the day to help give you energy and good nutrition.
  • Eat with others to share cooking as well as to get some social interaction and support.
  • When preparing food or buying pre-prepared food, choose options that are lower in the three Ss: salt, sugar and saturated fat. 
  • Remember the importance of food safety when buying, preparing, cooking and storing food.

Cooking for one

If you live alone, it can be hard to find the motivation to cook for yourself every night. There are a few things you can do to help you eat healthy food without having to cook daily. 

Try making enough food for two or more people. Eat one portion and freeze the rest for another day. 

These recipes make enough for two meals:

Another option is to prepare meals in advance and reheat them when you want to eat them. 

You could also read our blogpost about freezing meals and try out some freezer-friendly recipes. Our favourite freezer-friendly recipes serve between 4–6 adults, so once made they can be portioned into individual servings and stored in the freezer.

What else is important for healthy ageing?

Physical activity, particularly resistance exercise, plays an important role in maintaining bone density. Other benefits of exercise in older people include improved appetite, carbohydrate metabolism and bowel function, decreased heart disease risk and slowed rate of muscle loss.

Couple exercising

Older people should aim to do 30 minutes of aerobic physical activity five days a week. Some examples include:

  • brisk walking
  • dancing
  • cycling 
  • swimming.

In addition, you should try to do two sessions of resistance activity each week. Resistance activity includes:

  • lifting/carrying shopping
  • weight training 
  • standing up and sitting down repeatedly.

Getting outside to be physically active can also help boost our vitamin D levels. Dietary requirements for vitamin D double for both men and women in the 51–70 age group. Most adults get their vitamin D from the sun as there are few dietary sources that contain high levels of vitamin D. 

Looking after your health as you age helps improve your quality of life and prolongs your independence. Eating a well-balanced diet with lots of high-fibre foods and exercising daily is going to help you reduce your risk of heart disease along with other chronic health conditions, allowing you to maintain good health and spend more time with your family.

Manage your risk of heart disease
Nickie Hursthouse, NZRD

Nickie Hursthouse, NZRD

National Nutrition Advisor

As a Registered Dietitian, I know that food gives us so much more than just nutrients. I am driven to simplify nutrition messages, educate on all aspects of food and support Kiwis to develop a love of food that helps them stay healthy throughout their life.