March is National Nutrition Month, so we thought it would be appropriate to take a look at how to maintain good nutrition and hydration as we age.

As we get older, it is essential that we continue to control our food and nutrition intake to ensure we look after our health. Age UK has recently reported that one in 10 (1.4 million) people in England aged 60+ have been eating less since the start of the pandemic, leading to concerns they may be at a greater risk of becoming malnourished, while 3.7 million say that either they or others in their household have been unable to eat healthy and nutritious food.

Maintaining a healthy diet can help your body to cope with ongoing illnesses or other healthcare problems. In addition, understanding good nutrition and paying attention to what you eat can help you maintain or improve your health.

What is good nutrition?

Good nutrition plays a big part in our health, regardless of our age. Food is how we get fuel into our bodies through nutrients, which need to be replaced daily. This includes fats, carbohydrates and proteins. In addition, water is another important component of good nutrition.

A combination of good nutrition and physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight. However, there are other benefits to good nutrition. As well as preventing malnutrition, a balanced diet can reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, and can help to prevent colds and infections.

In addition, good nutrition can help to reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as increasing your energy levels, which can be of great benefit as you get older.

What is a well-balanced diet?

A healthy diet for everyone should include plenty of natural foods, such as fruits and vegetables. In addition, whole grains and protein should be part of your diet. It is important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and protein should come from lean meats and poultry and dairy products should be low fat.

Unfortunately, good nutrition also involves avoiding certain foods, such as those with high salt levels that lead to high blood pressure. Watching your cholesterol and fat intake is also important for good nutrition.

It is also important that you try and get the right mix of micronutrients into your diet. Micronutrients are essential in small amounts and include vitamins and minerals. A varied and balanced diet should provide you with all the vitamins and minerals that you need.

Why is good hydration important?

The human body is around 60% water, which is used for many vital processes. This is why it is important that you hydrate yourself regularly and consume around two litres of water a day. Your individual requirements can depend on your body size and age, as well as environmental factors like your activity levels.

Good hydration is critical for maintaining several body functions, including the heart and brain. In addition, good hydration also helps to reduce the risk of a range of illnesses, such as UTIs, which can pose a significant risk to the elderly. In fact, the elderly are far more susceptible to dehydration.

How to stay hydrated

It is recommended that adults drink six to eight glasses of water per day. While water is the best option for rehydrating the body, it is possible to be hydrated by other drinks, such as juice, tea or milk.

As people get older, they often have difficulty staying hydrated; this could be a conscious effort due to worries around incontinence or the effort of going to the toilet, or they may become forgetful. However, it is important to encourage elderly relatives or patients to continue drinking, as dehydration can actually exacerbate any existing conditions or cause new ones.

If you are providing care for an elderly relative or friend, it is important that you encourage them to remain hydrating and to drink water regularly. It is always a good idea to have a glass of water within easy reach and to refill the drink regularly.

What can make it harder to eat as you age?

As you age, you may find yourself losing interest in cooking and eating. This can result in malnutrition, which can worsen existing health problems or cause new ones. However, small changes can help you overcome some of the challenges to eating well that come with age.

1. Living alone. As we age, we can find ourselves living alone unexpectedly. This can make shopping, cooking and eating more difficult. If you are finding it difficult to go shopping and to cook your meals, ask a family member for help or look to hire a live-in carer. In addition, ask a friend, relative, neighbour or your carer to eat with you to help make mealtimes more enjoyable.

2. Health problems. Digestive issues or difficulty chewing can make it difficult to get your needed meals eaten. Try eating softer foods that are easier on your mouth, like cooked vegetables, eggs and canned fruit. If you are suffering from poor digestion, talk to your GP to make sure there isn’t an underlying health condition.

3. Loss of taste or smell. If food is no longer tasting good or you have lost your sense of taste or smell, try adding new recipes to your meal plan. In addition, adding different herbs and spices to your food can re-invigorate your taste. Some medicines can affect your sense of smell and taste, as well as your appetite. If you are worried, you should talk to your doctor or carer.

Summary

In summary, being aware of your diet and what you are putting into your body is always going to have an impact on your health. However, as you get older, it is even more important that you are eating the right things to help your body cope with any ongoing illnesses.

If you are a carer or loved one of an elderly person, make sure to check for signs of malnutrition or dehydration. Help them to maintain a healthy diet and you can help to lessen the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, and can help stave off colds and infections.

Useful resources

  • Meals on wheels: If you are finding it difficult to ensure you are eating well, meals on wheels services can deliver hot, nutritious, prepared meals direct to your home. Visit Meals Services, meals-on-wheels | Useful contacts | Care Choices for more information.
  • Healthy eating guide: If you’d like more guidance on what to eat and drink to stay healthier, be active for longer and protect yourself from illness, visit Age UK and check out the healthy eating guide
  • Spotting the signs of malnutrition: For further information on eating and drinking well in later life, visit the Malnutrition Task Force
  • The Eatwell Guide: the NHS’s guide to eating well