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.
What to eat
A healthy, balanced diet
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 five portions of a variety of fruit and veg a day
- plenty of 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
Look at the eatwell plate for more information on how to have a healthy, balanced diet.
Plenty of foods rich in starch and fibre
Fibre-rich foods include wholegrain or brown types of starchy foods such as bread, rice, pasta and breakfast cereals. Other good sources of fibre are potatoes, oats, beans, peas, lentils, fruit and vegetables.
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.
Don't buy raw bran and sprinkle it on your food to increase your fibre as this may prevent your body absorbing some important minerals.
Read more about the health benefits of fibre.
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. However, if you eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat a day, the Department of Health advises that you cut down to 70g.
Read more about how much meat you should eat.
Iron is also found in pulses (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.
Osteoporosis is a major health issue for older people, particularly women. It happens when your bone density decreases, which raises your risk of fractures. It's important to have calcium in your diet to keep your bones healthy.
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.
Read more about how to get enough calcium.
Many of us in the UK eat too much 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.
Try to have less than 6g of salt a day.
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 and at the table.
Read more about how to cut back on salt.
Enough vitamin D
Vitamin D is also essential for healthy bones as it helps you absorb calcium. We mainly get our vitamin D through the effect of summer sunshine on our skin. However, it’s also important to get some in your diet.
Good sources include eggs, oily fish, some fortified breakfast cereals and fortified spreads.
Read more about how to get enough vitamin D.
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 to stay healthy:
Stay a healthy weight
Try to keep your weight at a healthy level. It’s not good to be either overweight or underweight.
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 GP to check it. They may refer you to a dietitian, who can advise you about changing what you eat to meet your current needs.
Check if you're a healthy weight.
Watch out for lack of appetite
As we age, it’s natural to eat less or be less interested in food. This is partly because we’re not as active as we used to be, and also because we lose some muscle so our bodies burn fewer calories.
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 three 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.
Find out what to do if you're over 60 and underweight.
Don't get thirsty
Aim to drink about 1.2 litres (or two and a half pints) of fluid every day to stop you getting dehydrated. This is about six 200ml or eight 150ml glasses, cups or mugs. When the weather is warm or when you are active, you’ll probably need more than this.
All non-alcoholic drinks count towards your daily fluid intake, including tea and coffee. However, water, milk and fruit juices are the healthiest choices.
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.
Read more about how much fluid you need.