As we get older, it’s important to not only consider our nutrition and how this will impact our health, but also recognise the joy that comes from a good food experience.
We’ve all heard the saying ‘food is fuel’, but as we get older it becomes more than just fuel, we also need to feed our souls – so to speak.
Go with your gut
When we think about ageing, one of the biggest things to remember is that this really begins on the inside. Our gut microbiome – which refers to the ecosystem of trillions of microbes that live in our body – is what we need to be thinking about to keep our gut, and therefore the rest of our body, happy and healthy.
It’s believed that gut health becomes particularly important as we get older because our gut is responsible for helping us to digest everything we consume so we get the maximum nutrients from our food.
Why are anti-inflammatory foods important and what are some examples I can include in my diet?
As we get older, we may become more prone to injury and disease if our immune systems are struggling to combat these nasties. While some inflammation is a normal, reparative reaction that helps with healing, persistent inflammation can attack our immune system and become destructive10. If you’re someone struggling with continual stress, a poor diet or an over-exposure to environmental toxins, these can cause an unhealthy level of inflammation in the body.
To help avoid persistent inflammation, you can make simple changes to your diet by including more anti-inflammatory foods every day. Overall, an anti-inflammatory diet focuses on whole foods that are unrefined and unprocessed, as well as healthy fats, anti-inflammatory spices and omega 3 fatty acids.
- Whole grains, including brown rice, barley and quinoa
- Fatty fish, including salmon, which is rich in omega 3 fatty acids
- Healthy fats, including avocados, beans, nuts, seeds and olive oil
- Spices, including ginger, turmeric and cinnamon
- Vegetarian-friendly options, such as tofu, tempeh, edamame and various plant and nut milks.
Finding new inspiration in the kitchen
I used to love cooking, but now I live alone and cooking for one is not much fun. Any tips for making it affordable, interesting and healthy?
Sometimes, a big change to our lives – whether it’s a sudden decline in health or the loss of a partner – can see us lose enthusiasm for our love of cooking, particularly if we’re preparing meals for one. Here are three simple tips to help you find the fun in cooking again.
- Make it a social occasion – even if you are living alone, invite friends or family round for regular meals. This doesn’t mean you always have to cook for everyone, which can get stressful and expensive. Instead, suggest that everyone brings along a dish to share. That way, you get to try a variety of things in one meal!
- Spend time planning new recipes to try – whether you pull old cookbooks off your bookshelf or go searching for recipes online, find something new to try out so you’re not always old favourites – your taste buds will thank you!
- Try a new place to food shop – instead of heading to the same supermarket for your weekly grocery shopping, try venturing into a specialist grocer to get some new food inspiration. From an Asian grocer to the local farmers’ markets you may find that ingredients are much cheaper and you get something new to try out.
Looking for recipe inspiration?
The CSIRO has a range of structured meal plans and recipe ideas available in various cookbooks and programs. Head to csiro.com.au/en/research/health to find out more.
Six reasons gut health is important
- It keeps your immune system strong – good gut health will help to regulate your immune system and keep nasties at bay.
- It promotes the growth of new brain cells – probiotics and the live bacteria you can include in your diet to help keep your digestive system happy can help promote the growth of new brain cells.
- It helps with detoxification of your body – a healthy gut will help our body combat and detox from the toxins we are exposed to from our food, water and the environment.
- It boosts your memory – studies show9 that probiotics can help boost your memory, as well as help with cognitive function.
- It gives your skin a youthful glow – by helping you to properly absorb nutrients, probiotics can give your skin a healthy glow, restore pH and reduce skin damage from the sun.
- It helps give you an energy boost – with proper nutrient absorption, you get all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that give you a better dose of energy.
Are you worried about a loved one?
If you’re looking after a loved one, what are the most common signs that they might not be getting adequate nutrition from their food?
Dr Natalie Luscombe-Marsh, Research Scientist at the CSIRO, outlines five signs to look out for.
- Unintentional weight loss. For example, more than a five per cent weight loss over a six-month to 12-month period increases the risk of worsening health.
- Pitting edema, which is the build-up of fluid in tissues of lower extremities under the skin. An easy way to identify this is if there is a persisting indentation in a swollen leg after pressure has been applied from a finger.
- The slowing of walking speed or weakening of grip strength are also easy-to-measure indicators of nutritional deficiencies, such as energy or protein malnutrition. Is your loved one struggling to walk up a flight of stairs or around the block, or can they no longer open a can or jar?
- Increased falls or fractures can be due to multiple nutritional deficiencies, but particularly vitamin D, calcium, magnesium and protein.
- If someone is huffing and puffing more than they used to, it could not only be a sign of frailty, but also the onset of heart disease.
How do you make sure you or your loved one is eating enough of the right nutrients to stay healthy?
Try to ensure every meal you eat is full of colourful vegetables, a lean source of protein (i.e. meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, nuts/seeds) and some complex carbohydrate (i.e. minimally processed grains/cereals and beans/lentils).
Looking after our immune system is really important, but there is no single food that can do this. Foods such as densely coloured vegetables and fruits that are rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, iron, zinc, selenium or vitamins A, B, C, D or E, and foods rich in monosaturated or polysaturated fats all greatly support immune function.
The importance of a good food experience
Lynn James, Chief Executive Officer of the Maggie Beer Foundation, shares her insights on the importance of nutrition and good food experiences as we age.
The Maggie Beer Foundation was established to help transform the food experiences of older people; bringing life-altering change to their wellbeing through good food that is full of nutrition and flavour.
“As you get older, it’s important to make healthy food choices and see eating as something that you can look forward to. It’s also important to use every meal and snack as an opportunity for maximum nutrition,” says Lynn.
Our lifestyles and our appetites will undoubtedly change as we get older, and this can affect the types and amounts of foods we eat. As Lynn explains, this can result in older people not getting enough essential vitamins, minerals or fibre, which can contribute to general unwellness or exacerbate a chronic illness.
“Good nutrition boosts immunity and gives muscle mass so you have the energy to exercise and be involved; yet without flavour and pleasure, nutrition is just fuel, it’s not life. It’s important that every bit of food brings equal measure of nutrition and pleasure,” says Lynn.
For more information, call the Five Good Friends and Apia Care Advice line on 1300 50 27 42.