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Winter is always a tough time of year for older people, especially those suffering from poor health. The lack of sunlight inhibits our body’s production of Vitamin D, an essential micronutrient for immune system function as well as bone and muscle health. The cold and damp weather can exacerbate join stiffness (though, interestingly, the reasons why this is the case are still being researched) and leave us susceptible to respiratory disease. 

The UK has an aging population, and the associated strain on healthcare and other support service could be problematic, so what can we do to mitigate the impact on society? A healthy and balanced diet plays an integral part in the prevention of age-related diseases, but research shows that older adults aren’t necessarily getting all the nutrients they need.

From data gathered in the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) 2008–2014, older adults in Britain are currently not meeting important dietary recommendations for their age group:

  • Over 65’s do not get the minimum five portions per day of fruit and vegetables (80 grams is one portion), most do not get the 18 grams a day of fibre either which may be related to this, but also can also be sourced from wholegrains.
  • Over 65’s should have 140 grams of oily fish per week but they are not getting this. 
  • Men aged 65 years and over are likely to exceed the 70 grams per day (on average) of red and processed meat.

Dietary intake in older adults is influenced by an array of factors including wealth, kitchen facilities, cooking skills, mood, strength to cut up food and the help or company that is available. 

Dental status is potentially an important factor. Older adults are susceptible to tooth loss and a large number are missing teeth or have dentures which can impair chewing ability. Consequently, reduced chewing ability may impact dietary eating habits, such as avoiding tough foods that are high in fibre including fruit, vegetables and nuts. That means they may miss out on key nutrients for optimal health in older age. 

Further analysis of the NDNS found that people with dentures have significantly lower levels of average daily intakes of omega 3 fatty acids, fibre, β-carotene, folate, vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium, and had lower blood levels of vitamin B6, vitamin C and β-carotene concentrations. People with dentures were more likely to report difficulty eating apples, raw carrots, lettuce, nuts, well-cooked steak and crusty bread too.

Perhaps you are worried that your diet might be lacking some key nutrients? Here are some meal and snack ideas which could be really helpful:

Fruits

Fruit such as apple, pear, kiwi and melon should be ripe and finely cut. Stewed apple, rhubarb, plums and cherries can be served as desserts. All of these contain high amounts of vitamin C, potassium and fibre. Bananas and raspberries also contain magnesium.

Vegetables

Vegetables should be soft enough and easy to chew and are best left steaming for a bit longer than normal. Try mashing carrot, sweet potato, parsnip or swede into mashed potato. Stewing vegetables in with meat and gravy or tomato-based sauces will deliver an easy to eat, tasty and nutrient-rich meal. Easily to mash pieces of roasted butternut squash pack in potassium, fibre and beta carotene. Peas are well liked as they are soft, naturally sweet and contain folate, vitamin C, fibre and potassium.

Meat

Tender low-fat meats such as chicken or turkey from a whole bird are usually best tolerated and can be served with a cheese sauce or as a well-thought-out roast dinner. Chicken and turkey are also rich in vitamin B6, essential for protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism

Shepherds/cottage pie: Use quorn, beef or lamb mince with gravy, onion and carrots topped with mashed potato, delivering protein, fibre, beta carotene and potassium. Or even mince in a wholemeal shortcrust pastry topped pie, brushed with egg yolk and served with soft cauliflower cheese always goes down well, packing in potassium, fibre and vitamin C.

Fish

Seafood pies with creamy white wine sauces and peas can form a potato topped pie or mix with tagliatelle – they’re both rich in key nutrients B6, omega 3, folate and vitamin C and potassium. A tender salmon steak served with peas and dauphinoise potatoes is rich in B6, omega 3, vitamin C, fibre and folate. A salmon and broccoli quiche packs in magnesium, omega 3, B6. fibre, potassium, folate and beta carotene. 

Salads

Side salads could include guacamole which includes finely chopped red pepper. This packs in magnesium, fibre, potassium, folate and beta carotene. Roast pieces of butternut squash, peeled cucumber with coriander or mint and mixed into cous cous or rice salads add extra potassium, fibre and beta carotene.

Snacks

Make your own soft red pepper and tomato bread and serve with hummus, this provides vitamin C, potassium, fibre and beta carotene. Or buy a soft wholemeal roll and serve with homemade red pepper hummus for added vitamin B6, beta carotene, magnesium and folate.

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