Healthy eating habits/Maintaining Health: For Older Australians
Older adults should eat a variety of nutritious foods and keep physically active to maintain their overall health and wellbeing. This page provides information on the differing nutrition needs of Australians over 65 years of age and how to meet these nutritional needs.
Why do my nutritional needs change as I get older?
As you age, your body needs less energy to perform everyday tasks. This is due to decreased amounts of muscle and bone mass within the body and increased amounts of fat within the body. Older adults also have a decreased appetite, which contributes to a reduced energy intake. While your energy needs decrease as you age, the need for some nutrients increases. This is due to the changes in the amount of muscle, bone and fat tissue within the body, and because the body is less able to absorb some nutrients from the gut.
Muscles: Use them or lose them!
Physical activity is particularly important after age 65. It enables you to maintain muscle mass which is critical for supporting the skeleton, maintaining immune function and ensuring you are able to perform everyday tasks easily. Brisk walking, running or swimming is beneficial for maintaining fitness, while activities such as yoga or weight training promote bone and muscle strength, balance and flexibility. The Australian Physical Activity Guidelines for Older Australians (65 years and older) recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most days.
What are my nutritional needs?
As stated before, the amount of energy needed by the body decreases as you get older. An average energy intake for adults over 65 years, with a light physical activity level, is 7000 kJ for females and 8200 kJ for males. This is a decrease of about 1000 kJ for females and up to 2000kJ for males from energy intakes at age 30. Adults over 65 years need greater amounts of some nutrients, most importantly protein, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12. Protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass and being able to perform everyday tasks easily. Calcium and Vitamin D are essential to maintain strong bones and teeth, and avoid bone fractures, while Vitamin B12 is important for mental ability and the production of energy.
How do I meet my nutritional needs?
The Australian Dietary Guidelines provide advice about the amounts and kinds of foods we should be eating to maintain our health and wellbeing, and meet our energy and nutrient needs. They translate the specific amounts of nutrients we need everyday, into common foods that are easy to understand. By following the recommendations on the types and amounts of foods we should be eating everyday, we are able to meet our energy and nutrient needs to maintain our overall health.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines for Older Adults
- To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs
- Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from the five food groups every day
- Limit your intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt and sugars, and alcohol
The Australian Dietary Guidelines outline five different food groups and the amount of serves of each food group you should consuming everyday to remain healthy. The following table outlines the five food groups and how many serves of each group men and women over the age of 70 should be consuming to meet their energy and nutrient needs.
|Food Group||Recommended serves per day||1 serve equals|
|Vegetables and Legumes/Beans||Men - 5 serves
Women - 5 serves
|1/2 a cup of cooked orange/green vegetables or legumes/beans
1 cup of green leafy or raw salad vegetables
1 medium tomato
1/2 medium potato
|Fruit||Men - 2 serves
Women - 2 serves
|1 medium sized apple, pear, orange or banana
2 small apricots, kiwi fruits or plums
1 cup of canned or diced fruit (no added sugar)
|Grain and Cereal Foods||Men - 4.5 serves
Women - 3 serves
|1 slice of bread, English muffin or scone
1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta or noodles
2/3 cup of cereal flakes
|Lean Meat, Poultry, Fish and Alternatives||Men - 2.5 serves
Women - 2 serves
|65g of cooked red meat
80g of cooked poultry
100g of fish or 1 small can
2 large eggs
1 cup cooked dried legumes or beans
30g of nuts or seeds
|Dairy Foods||Men - 3.5 serves
Women - 4 serves
|1 cup of milk
3/4 cup of yoghurt
2 slices of cheese
Adding variety to your diet!
Incorporating all the different food groups into each meal and choosing a variety of nutritious foods from these five different groups everyday is important. It increases the chance of obtaining enough of all nutrients and makes meals more interesting and enjoyable.
Tips for adding variety:
- Choose lots of different coloured fruits and vegetables
- Buy fresh produce that is in season
- Stock up on basics such as pasta, rice, reduced fat milk and yoghurt, lentils and beans, eggs and lean meats, healthy frozen foods and vegetables
- Use wholegrain cereals (bread, rice and pasta) more often
- Bulk up meals with added beans, lentils, rice or pasta
- Use canned or frozen foods low in salt and sugar
How do I find out more information?
- Australian Guide to Health Eating
- Healthy Eating When You're Older
- Nutrition Australia: Nutrition and Older Adults
- World Health Organisation - Nutrition for Older Persons
- Dietitians Association of Australia
- Australian Government Department of Health. (2014). Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines. Retrieved from http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines#chba
- Brown, J. E. (2011). Nutrition Through the Life Cycle. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
- National Health and Medical Research Council. (2013). Australian Dietary Guidelines. Retrieved from http://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines
- Nutrition Australia. (2013). Nutrition and older adults. Retrieved from http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/nutrition-and-older-adults
- Stewart, R., & Griffith University. (2012). Griffith Handbook of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics. Southport, QLD: Griffith University, School of Public Health
- Whitney, E., Rolfes, S. R., Crowe, T., Cameron-Smith, D., & Walsh, A. (2011). Understanding Nutrition. South Melbourne, VIC: Cengage Learning.