Dieting and Nutrition for Elderly People

Our diet represents one of the most important factors in our health at any age, but as we get older our appetites tend to decrease, and our body requires a slightly different balance of nutrients to remain as fit as possible. It’s an ancient cliché that we are what we eat, but the literal truth of this statement can’t be ignored; apart from trace amounts of vitamin D, which is synthesised in the skin during exposure to sunlight, every single part of our bodies was ingested by us at some point.

A very helpful way of looking at our diet is to break it down into ‘macronutrients’ and look at the proportion of our diet given over to each. These nutrients are most simply described as carbohydrates (including all sugars and starches), proteins (including the amino acids from which they’re formed), and fats (including both essential fatty acids, which behave more like vitamins). By separating our diet into the nutrients which are required in the largest amounts, we split the expansive and massively multi-faceted pool of possible nutrients down into a trio of easy-to-understand ‘sorts.’

Protein is particularly important for senior care due to the increased need for tissue repair, but this demand also increases the need for carbohydrates and fats, providing energy for regeneration as well as movement and other bodily processes. While all carbohydrates are of the same substance (carbon and water, as the name suggests), it’s important to highlight the readily-available energy in sugar as contrasted with the comparatively inaccessible energy which is locked up in longer carbohydrate chains. We’re always told that we eat too much sugar, but it’s important to remember, even in cases where we’re unlikely to become overweight, that sugar breaks down collagen, ageing and weakening our skin. Maintaining good hydration by drinking around two litres of water a day, can help to preserve our skin health as well as improving our metabolism, among other benefits.

Dieting without ‘Dieting’

‘Everything in moderation’ would appear to be the order of the day, but the first part is as important as the last. Micronutrients (i.e. vitamins) are almost as important as macros, and variety is the main quality we should look for in our food. Our body requires hundreds of micronutrients to run at full capacity, and some of these are so obscure that strange cases of malnutrition often spring up in affluent, well-supplied countries. It wasn’t until the ‘70s, for example, that the crucial role of quinone (‘Vitamin K’) was identified. As in the case of every other vitamin, people had managed to eat enough of it by accident for many hundreds of millennia.

And while this might seem an odd approach to nutrition, it is actually the best approach: eat a broad enough range of foodstuffs to cover all the boxes and ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs. In general, between 45% and 65% of daily calories should come from carbohydrates, a minimal amount of these coming from sugars, and most of the remainder being accounted for by fats.

The role of fat is often misunderstood, especially as we tend to instinctively associate dietary fat intake with bodily fat storage. It’s actually possible to eat almost exclusively fat and lose quite a lot of weight; the dangers of a high-fat diet are related instead to cardiovascular health. The truth is that most people will tend to gain weight uncontrollably if they are deprived of fat, and sometimes things like low-fat spreads can actually contribute to weight gain. Consuming fat can satisfy our bodies’ need for food in a way that wolfing down carbs cannot, but we should always be aware of the impact that fats can have on our heart health.

Diet and Nutrition in Senior Care

At Signature Senior Lifestyle we champion a person-centred approach.  We’re well aware of the central role which diet plays in physical and mental health for nursing care, and every meal we serve is prepared with top-quality seasonal ingredients by our award-winning chefs. Sympathetic preparation preserves natural nutritional value and ensures a well-balanced and nutritious diet for all of our residents, also making special provisions for those who experience difficulty in swallowing through our dysphagia-friendly dining arrangements. Enjoyment is nearly as important as nutrition, and our menus are created in collaboration with Masterchef 2016 winner Jane Devonshire and delivered across a range of dining environments, with special attention paid to personal needs and preference, to ensure that we’re at the cutting edge in terms of nutrition, taste and quality.

Find out more about Signature’s dining and nutrition program here.