EATING well helps us to age well, according to Toowoomba performance dietitian and consultant Ruth Logan.
Ruth, herself a Senior at 57, said her aim was to "get people to be the healthiest version of themselves they can be".
That means considering both the quality and quantity of foods we eat and ensuring our diet provides the most nutrients for the least amount of energy.
Daily energy needs generally decline slowly with age due to changes in our lifestyle - perhaps less exercise and more socialising - but our nutritional needs are the same if not greater, she said.
That doesn't mean getting out the kilojoule counter. You can tell if you have the balance right simply by reflecting periodically on your weight - if you are gaining weight, your diet has too much energy (carbohydrates and fats); if you are losing muscle and body fat, your nutrition is not optimal.
Diets should be high in calcium for bones, and in protein, to maintain muscle mass, important in reducing falls in older age, for which weight-bearing and resistance exercises are also important.
While losing strength is an ongoing process, Ruth said more rapid change was noticed in women around menopause and in men from about 60 years old.
With lifestyle changes such as retirement, children moving on, health concerns and even loss of partners, eating patterns also vary.
Ruth speaks from personal knowledge, having lost her husband two years ago to melanoma.
"So I have experienced a lot of change," she said. "It's hard but it's part of life and something we always have to adapt to."
She said often emotion could rule our appetites, with grieving or feeling isolated impacting on our interest in food, with some turning to food for comfort and others away from it. In both cases, she said it was important to find a healthy balance.
Having grown up in eras where food was not to be wasted because either it was short during the war years, or because as Baby Boomers we were told to "think of the starving children" and eat everything put in front of us, Ruth said it was important to consider portion sizes and adjust according to how much physical activity was being done.
She said it was easy to be caught still cooking big meals to suit physical labour, or for extra members of the family, and eating the food rather than wasting it. Her advice? Remember to freeze extra portions for an easy meal another day.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are always important, but frozen options are often actually more nutritious and economical for people living alone than having produce go off, or lose its nutrients sitting in the crisper.
Ruth acknowledged that 'easy meals', such as something on toast, can become very tempting if you are living alone because you lose the motivation to cook.
"Try and eat regularly in a social environment; have friends over or eat out at lunch so you can have a lighter meal at home that night and you are still getting the right nutrients," she said.
Taste changes also occur as we age, with our taste buds not replacing as regularly as when we are young, and ill-health and medications impacting.
Being conscious of not overcompensating by using too much sugar or salt, she said, was very important, with sugar associated with weight gain and diabetes and salt with blood pressure and heart health.
Ruth Logan is a dietary consultant and corporate health program manager for Live Well Australia.
GENERAL DIET TIPS FOR OVER-60s
Eat small portions (palm size) of protein, including fish at least twice a week. And eat them regularly throughout the day so they are better absorbed.
Eat calcium-rich food - our need for calcium is at its peak at over 70 years. Eat at least three serves of fat-reduced dairy per day.
Fibre is important, because as we age, bowel muscles decline and can cause constipation. Consider oats, grains, nuts and seeds. If you have dental issues softer options include baked beans, hummus, legumes and psyllium husk (a soluble fibre).
Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables at least three times a day.
Monitor your alcohol intake - it's easy to drink more when you don't have to get up early for work the next day, or when socialising more, but alcohol is associated with weight gain, sleep disturbance and increased appetite.
Get regular exercise, but even with walking, talk to your GP or exercise physiologist before embarking on any exercise program to ensure it suits your fitness and health.
TIPS FOR PRE-CHRISTMAS FESTIVITIES
Hydrate before you celebrate - Don't go to a party thirsty; quench your thirst with water not alcohol and alternate water or non-alcoholic drinks with alcohol once at the function.
Eat before you go - Don't go to a function hungry. Eat something light at home before you go, because finger food is notoriously high in fat and it's very easy to over-indulge.
Think fresh and don't over-cater if entertaining at home. Have plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables including salads, dip with vegetable sticks, and cheese platters with fruit, cherry tomatoes, olives etc as well as crackers.
Leave the leftovers - don't 'do a labrador' and go back for that last sausage on the barbecue or last piece of cake that you really don't need.
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