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Eating well for older people

Te kainga pai mā ngā pēperekōu

older eatingEating well is important for everyone, but it's even more important as you get older.

Eating well can help boost your energy levels, help improve your mental sharpness and increase your resistance to illness. Along with keeping active, eating well can help you to continue living independently and enjoy a good quality of life.

Healthy weight in old age

A healthy weight from your late 60s onwards is higher than what might have been considered ideal when you were younger. We know that you do not need to worry about being slightly overweight as long as you maintain your weight at a constant level. But being underweight or very overweight is not good for your health.

If you're worried about your weight, or you've noticed that your clothes have become looser or tighter, talk to your general practice team.

Tips for eating well in old age

Have regular meals and snacks

Having regular meals will help to maintain your energy levels throughout the day. If you're underweight or have a small appetite, it's a good idea to also have a small nutritious snack between meals. Nutritious snack options include:

Choose a variety of healthy foods

This is the best way to make sure you get all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. Have food from all the main food groups every day:

Enjoy calcium-rich foods every day

Calcium-rich foods can help keep your bones strong and healthy and reduce your risk of osteoporosis (a condition that causes your bones to be thinner and weaker than normal).

Aim to have four or more servings of calcium-rich food a day. Calcium-rich foods include dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. Good non-dairy options include calcium-enriched plant milk (at least 120 mg of calcium per 100 ml), tofu, some green vegetables, nuts and whole canned fish with soft edible bones such as sardines and salmon.

Include a protein-rich food at every meal

Protein helps to keep your muscles and bones strong and healthy. Compared to younger people, older people need more protein. This is because as you age your body becomes less efficient at processing protein.

Meat, chicken, seafood, eggs and dairy foods are good sources of protein but plant sources such as nuts, seeds, tofu, legumes (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans and soybeans) are also good.

If you do not like or cannot tolerate cow’s milk, soy milk is a good option. Other plant milks such as almond milk and rice milk contain very little protein.

Drink plenty of fluids

Drink at least eight cups of fluid a day. You may need more if the weather is hot and humid, you're doing a lot of physical activity or you have constipation or diarrhoea. Suitable fluids include water, milk, tea, coffee and soup. If you're underweight, it's a good idea to have nutritious drinks such as milky drinks or soup instead of water, tea or black coffee (which have few calories and no nutritional value).

If you find getting up during the night to go to the toilet is a problem, try having most of your fluid earlier in the day.

See How to get enough to drink for more information.

Go easy on alcohol

As you get older, your body’s ability to handle alcohol changes and you may need to limit how much you drink or not drink at all. Read more in Alcohol & older people.

If you drink alcohol, follow national guidelines on how much to drink safely.

If you're having trouble stopping or cutting back on alcohol, talk to your general practice team.

Have a quick easy meal when you do not feel like cooking

There may be times when you do not feel like cooking, especially if you live alone. You may be tired or just not interested in cooking. See Quick easy meals for suggestions for nutritious, inexpensive meals that are quick and easy to prepare.

Eat with others

Food and eating are part of social life, which also contributes to good health. You may enjoy a meal more if you eat with others, so take advantage of opportunities to share meals with whānau (family), friends and social groups.

Ask for help

If you're finding it difficult to eat well or manage your weight, talk to your general practice team. They may refer you to a dietitian, Meals on Wheels or Puāwai-Kai.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Meals on Wheels

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2022.


See also:

Quick easy meals

Shopping and cooking for one

Page reference: 45172

Review key: HIEWO-31470