Your body changes as you get older, but a balanced diet will help you stay healthy. Here's what to eat and how to keep healthy as you get older.
Whatever your age, it's important to eat a healthy, balanced diet. This means you should try to eat:
- plenty of fruit and vegetables — aim for at least 5 portions of vegetables and 2 portions of fruit a day
- some bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods — choose wholegrain varieties if you can
- some milk and dairy foods
- some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein — try to eat at least two portions of fish a week, including a portion of oily fish
- just a small amount of foods and drinks that are high in fat or sugar
Eat food rich in fibre
Eating foods containing fibre could be good for your digestion. Constipation tends to become more of a nuisance as you get older, but fibre-rich foods can prevent constipation and other digestive problems.
Using raw bran as wheat bran in cereal can reduce the absorption of calcium in foods such as dairy or when you take a calcium containing medication if taken at the same time. This may be an issue in managing healthy bones.
Eat iron-rich foods
Iron is important for our general health. A lack of iron can make us feel as though we have no energy, so include some iron-rich foods in your diet.
The best source of iron is lean red meat. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend older men over 51 should eat 2 ½ serves and women over 51 should eat 2 serves of protein a day. A serve is 65g of cooked lean red meat such as beef, lamb, veal, pork, goat or kangaroo (about 90-100g raw).
Iron is also found in legumes (such as peas, beans and lentils), oily fish such as sardines, eggs, bread, green vegetables and breakfast cereals with added vitamins.
Liver is a good source of iron. However, be careful how much liver you eat as it's also rich in vitamin A, too much of which can be harmful.
Eat calcium-rich foods
Calcium is essential for building and maintaining bone. As we age our requirement for calcium increases as calcium from food is not as absorbed as well. and we need extra serves of low fat milk, yogurt and cheese. Eating calcium-rich foods can help you avoid osteoporosis.
Good sources include dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. Choose lower fat varieties when you can, or eat higher fat varieties in smaller amounts.
Calcium is also found in canned fish with bones such as sardines, green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage (but not spinach), soya beans and tofu.
Use less salt
Too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which puts you at increased risk of health problems such as heart disease or a stroke.
Most of the salt we eat is already in foods such as cereals, bread, tinned soups and other ready-prepared foods. Check food labels before you buy and choose ones that contain less salt. Don't add salt to your food when cooking.
Enough vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for bone health and to prevent osteoporosis. The best source of vitamin D is safe exposure to UV sunlight. You only need to spend a short period of time in the sun each day to get enough vitamin D. Food alone can’t provide enough vitamin D, however dietary sources include eggs, oily fish, some fortified breakfast cereals and fortified spreads.
Having too much vitamin A (more than 1.5mg of vitamin A a day from food and supplements) might increase your risk of bone fracture.
Liver is high in vitamin A. Don't eat liver or liver products, such as pate, more than once a week, or eat them in smaller portions. If you do eat liver more than once a week, don't take any supplements containing vitamin A or fish liver oils (which also contain high levels of vitamin A).
As well as making sure you eat enough of the right types of food, try to follow these food and diet tips described below to stay healthy.
Stay a healthy weight
As you grow older, if you're overweight, you'll become less mobile. This can affect your health and quality of life. Being overweight also increases your risk of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Being underweight isn't healthy either and may be a sign that you're not eating enough or that you're unwell. Being underweight also increases your risk of osteoporosis.
If you're worried about your weight, ask your doctor to check it. They may refer you to a dietitian, who can advise you about changing what you eat to meet your current needs.
Watch out for lack of appetite
However, it's important to get all the energy and nutrients that your body needs.
If you don't eat as much as you used to, eat smaller meals more often and supplement them with nutritious snacks, such as fruit, vegetables and wholegrain toast.
You may eat less because you find it more difficult to buy or prepare food, or because you find it harder to get around if you have a condition such as arthritis.
Eat regularly, at least 3 times a day. If you don't feel like cooking from scratch, have a tinned, chilled or frozen ready-prepared meal instead. It's a good idea to have a store of foods in the freezer and cupboard in case you cannot go out.
Drink more water
Drink plenty of fluids every day to stop you getting dehydrated.
Aim to drink at least 6 times a day, and more in warmer weather or if you’re exercising. Tea, coffee, mineral water, soda water and reduced fat milk can all count towards your fluid intake during the day, but water is always best.
Drinks that contain a lot of caffeine, such as strong tea and coffee, might make your body produce more urine. If you mostly drink strong tea or coffee (or other drinks that contain a lot of caffeine), make sure you also drink some water or other fluids each day that don't contain caffeine.
Last reviewed: October 2018