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Tips for a healthy diet in old age

In addition to sufficient exercise, a balanced diet that meets all requirements is essential to a healthy old age. Find out here what you should be mindful of when it comes to diet in old age.

Energy versus nutrients: what do you need more of?

Various nutrient-rich fresh foods, such as fruit, vegetables, a piece of meat and fish.
Muscle mass decreases with age. As a result, older people need less energy. The need for nutrients does not decrease, however – quite the contrary: older people need more of certain nutrients (e.g. protein). So one of the idiosyncrasies of diet in old age is that we eat nutrient-rich rather than energy-rich foods.
Nutrient-rich foods include, for example:
  • Fruit and vegetables (rich in vitamins)
  • Wholegrain products (rich in wholesome carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre)
  • Pulses (rich in wholesome carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre)
  • Dairy products (rich in highly nutritious protein and calcium)
  • Sea fish (rich in protein, healthy fatty acids and vitamin D)

Protein for the muscles

To maintain muscles, it is vital not only to exercise regularly, but also to get enough protein in old age. For a healthy diet in old age, it is also important to know that the daily protein requirement increases to 1 to 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight from the age of 65. Someone who weighs 70 kilograms therefore needs at least 70 grams of protein a day.
How to meet your protein requirement:
  • Eat three portions of dairy products a day (e.g. milk, yoghurt, cheese or quark).
  • Also eat an additional portion of a protein-rich food (e.g. tofu, seitan, tempeh, meat or fish).
  • Ideally, almost every main meal and snack contains a protein-rich food.
  • Choose a varying range of protein-rich foods. For as well as protein, each provides an individual range of nutrients.

An extra portion of vitamin D

Yellow vitamin D capsules help to meet the daily requirement.
In combination with calcium, vitamin D plays a particular role in bone health. A lack of vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis, which induces falls and bone fractures. Our skin is able to produce vitamin D itself with the help of sunlight. However, it is often lacking here in Switzerland. This is because, during the winter months, the sun is not strong enough to enable the skin to produce sufficient vitamin D. On top of this, there is another risk factor in old age: the skin becomes thinner. As a result, the body’s own production of vitamin D decreases.
There are not many foods that provide notable amounts of vitamin D (examples include fish and some mushrooms). To meet the requirement, people aged 65 and over should therefore take a daily supplement containing 20 micrograms of vitamin D, either in the form of tablets or drops.

Keep an eye on vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 uptake often decreases in old age. This may be because a person is regularly taking certain medications that inhibit vitamin B12 uptake. This is primarily the case with proton pump inhibitors (for heartburn) and metformin (for diabetes). So it makes sense to have a general practitioner measure the vitamin B12 level in the blood on a regular basis.

Don’t forget to drink

A glass of water, which is part of a healthy diet
In order to provide our body with sufficient fluids, we should drink about 1.5 litres a day. On hot summer days, we need to drink significantly more, as we lose a lot of fluid through sweat. If the body fails to get an adequate supply of fluids, this can lead to headaches, muscle cramps or confusion. Dark urine is one sign that you haven’t drunk enough.
As our sensation of thirst decreases significantly with age, there is a considerable risk that older people will not drink enough. Small reminders to drink can prevent this from happening. For example, use special apps that remind you to drink, or always place your drink within reach and eye shot.
You can find further tips on drinking in the Swiss food pyramid.

Diet in old age: what should you do if you have no appetite?

If your hunger decreases, it is advisable to eat several small meals rather than a few large ones. Reach for a mid-morning and afternoon snack that provides energy or protein.
Suitable choices include, for example:
  • unsalted nuts or seeds,
  • a small bowl of muesli,
  • quark with fruit,
  • a boiled egg,
  • wholemeal bread with cheese,
  • chocolate milk or
  • high-protein yoghurt or drinks.
The daily intake of fluids is best divided among a number of small portions. You should not drink large quantities immediately before eating, as water fills the stomach (temporarily). This means that you may eat less, as you feel full too soon.
Taking a walk in the fresh air and getting enough sleep also have a positive impact on appetite. And not least, a meal enjoyed in a pleasant atmosphere together with the family or good friends increases the desire for food.

Exercise is good for you

There is a lot of truth in the old adage “A rolling stone gathers no moss”. For regular exercise helps to keep you fit over the long term. Ideally, you should get out of breath for half an hour once a day. You can start slowly at the beginning (e.g. 10 minutes each day) and then step it up.
How to get out of breath:
  • (Brisk) walking
  • Dancing (also promotes coordination)
  • Nordic walking (gentle on the joints)
  • Cycling
  • Using the stairs instead of the lift
  • Gardening
Moderate strength training (two to three times a week) is also a good way of maintaining muscle mass in old age.
It is important to ensure a balanced diet in old age. If you would like to find out more about a “Balanced diet” or “Healthy eating at every stage of life”, then take a look around our range of guides. Here, you will find further interesting articles such as “Nutritional values and calories” or “Food preparation to maintain nutritional value”.