Your guide to eating well, maintaining a healthy weight and other information you might need for your loved one.
We are passionate about affirming that your later years can be fulfilling years. Whether you’re enjoying your later life or going through tough times, we’re here to help you make the best of your life.
This information guide has been prepared by The Leading Care Company and contains general advice only, it should not be relied on as a basis for any decision or action and cannot be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. The Leading Care Company Neither nor any companies mentioned in this article accepts any liability arising from its use and it is the reader’s sole responsibility to ensure any information is up to date and accurate.
This article about Healthy Eating covers the following
- What this guide is about
- Eating well and staying hydrated
- The Eatwell Guide
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating well on a budget
- Alcohol diary
- Know what’s in your food
- Storing and preparing food safely
- Food diary
- Help with healthy eating
- Useful organizations
What this guide is about
It’s never too late to start eating healthily. A healthy diet doesn’t have to be boring or expensive and it doesn’t mean going without your favorite treats, although you might do well to eat them less often or in smaller portions. Eating well means that you’re likely to feel healthier, stay active for longer and protect yourself against illness. You might be surprised by how much more energy you have.
This guide looks at maintaining a healthy weight, including tips on eating well if you find that you’ve only got a small appetite and advice on reducing your risk of serious health conditions. It includes important information about food safety too so that you can reduce your risk of food poisoning, which is not only unpleasant but can also have serious health consequences
As far as possible, the information given in this guide is applicable across the UK.
Eating well and staying hydrated
Eating well means enjoying your food and having plenty of variety in your diet so you get all the nutrients you need and maintain a healthy weight. The Eatwell Guide shows how much of what you eat overall should come from each food group.
Fruit and vegetables
Research shows that people who eat plenty of fruit and vegetables are less likely to develop heart disease and certain cancers. Try to eat a variety of different-colored fruit and vegetables and aim for at least five portions a day to have with or between meals. A portion is roughly the amount you can fit in the palm of your hand – for example, two satsumas, three apricots, an apple or a banana. Frozen or tinned fruit and vegetables, dried fruit and fruit juice all count towards your ‘five a day’ but fruit juices and smoothies should be limited to 150ml a day because juicing releases sugars that damage teeth.
Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
These foods all contain protein, minerals, and vitamins which help to build and repair your body. You don’t need to eat meat every day – try well-cooked eggs, beans, lentils or tofu instead. Try to eat fish at least twice a week, with one portion being oily fish such as salmon or sardines. Oily fish are rich in vitamin D and a type of fat that helps to prevent heart disease. Avoid frying meat or fish. Try to limit portion sizes of red meat and poultry to around 70g a day. Choose lean mince and leaner cuts of meat and remove the skin from poultry. Limit both the portion sizes and the number of times you eat processed meats, such as sausages, salami, and cured meats, as these are generally high in salt and fat.
Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, and other starchy carbohydrates
Try to base your meals around starchy food (bread, chapatis, breakfast cereal, potatoes, yams, rice or pasta). These foods give you energy. Wholegrain foods such as brown rice or wholegrain bread or pasta contain B vitamins, minerals, and fiber that keep you well and help prevent constipation.
Dairy and alternatives
These foods contain protein and vitamins and are a good source of calcium, which helps to keep bones strong. Try to choose lower-fat versions, such as semi-skimmed milk, half fat cheese and low-fat paneer where you can or eat smaller portions if you like full-fat varieties. If you’re vegan or have a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, try lactose-free milk or dairy alternatives fortified with calcium such as soy, nut, rice and oat drinks.
Oils and spreads
You need some fat in your diet but watch the total amount of fat you eat, including oil and ghee. Limit the times you eat chips or other fried food and look for spreads that are lower in fat or lower in saturated fats. Saturated fats raise the level of cholesterol in the blood and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Foods high in fat, salt, and sugars
Don’t fill up on foods containing saturated fat, sugar or salt, such as cakes, biscuits, chocolate, crisps, and savoury snacks; leave room for more nutritious foods. Ketchup, brown sauce and soy sauce are all high in salt, so use them sparingly.
Water is vital for our bodies to work properly so it’s important to drink plenty. Not drinking enough can cause constipation, headaches, tiredness and irritability, and can also lead to dehydration.
Drink six to eight cups of liquid a day. This doesn’t have to be water – lower-fat milk and sugar-free drinks including tea and coffee all count. Try to limit fruit juices and smoothies to a total of 150ml a day and avoid sugary fizzy drinks as they contain unnecessary calories that can lead to weight gain. Remember that as we get older our sense of thirst gets weaker so don’t rely on feeling thirsty to tell you when to drink.
It’s particularly important to drink plenty in hot weather and stick to a normal diet to replace salt loss from sweating. See our guide Staying cool in a heatwave for more tips on coping in the heat.
The Eatwell Guide
The Eatwell Guide can help you follow a healthy, balanced diet. It shows how much of what you eat overall should come from each food group. This includes everything you eat and drink during the day.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Keeping to a healthy weight is important. It’s not good to be overweight or underweight but it’s easy for weight to creep up or drop off without us noticing. So the next time you’re at your GP surgery ask them to check that your weight is within a healthy range.
Worried about a poor appetite or unwanted weight loss?
If you’re finding it difficult to eat enough, you might find yourself feeling tired, depressed and low on energy. This is because you’re lacking calories and essential vitamins and minerals. It can also lead to unwanted weight loss.
Poor appetite and weight loss can be triggered by physical illness, depression or stressful situations including bereavement or moving house. Certain types of medication can also affect your appetite. Signs to watch out for include your clothes feeling looser and jewelry (such as a ring) seeming too big. Speak to your GP if you’ve been feeling down for a while, you’re worried about a poor appetite or concerned about your own or a relative’s unwanted weight loss. The food diary may be a helpful way of tracking what you eat.
If you only feel like eating a little, it’s important that the food you do eat is nourishing. Follow our tips to make sure that you eat well.
- Eat two to three small meals and a few snacks every day. Snack on yogurt, cheese, and crackers, toast with a savory topping, a milky drink, a fruit smoothie or breakfast cereal with milk, rather than biscuits and sweets
- Keeping active can help improve your appetite. Try going for a short walk every day or find another activity you enjoy that keeps you on the move. If you find this difficult, ask your GP for advice about activities suitable for your level of mobility and fitness.
- Keep a store of nourishing food, such as cans of soup or frozen meals, in case you can’t get to the shops
- Even if your appetite is poor, make sure you drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
If you have problems chewing and you wear dentures or have a bridge, ask your dentist to check that they fit properly. While many dental problems are being corrected, try easy-to-eat foods such as minced meat, casseroles, dahl, mashed potato, canned fruit, and cooked vegetables.
Shopping online can be convenient if there aren’t shops within walking distance or if it’s difficult to get to them. You could consider bulk-buying heavier items so someone else does the lifting for you. Visit your favorite supermarket’s website to see whether it offers home delivery. If you make purchases over the internet, make sure you take steps to keep your details secure. Our free guide Internet security has information about how to stay safe online.
Trying to lose weight?
Losing weight can be difficult but being overweight can make us less mobile. Being very overweight puts us at risk of serious diseases including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers, including bowel cancer and breast cancer after menopause. The media often talks about obesity in the younger population, but it’s a problem among older people too.
If you’ve gradually gained weight over the years, try to lose it slowly but steadily. Aim to lose about 1kg (1–2lb) a week rather than crash dieting
A good starting point is to keep a food diary for a week. Write down everything you eat and drink each day, including snacks, then check through to see where you might cut down or change your habits, for example by switching to healthier snacks.
Being physically active is good for everyone. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight or lose excess weight and successfully keep it off. If you’re generally fit and have no health conditions that limit your ability to move around, the Government recommends you build up to doing two and a half hours of moderate activity throughout the week. Think about walking, cycling, gardening and using the stairs more, as well as sport and exercise classes if you enjoy them. Use the page opposite to think about what you could do.
If your activity level is limited by health problems, or you find movement difficult, speak to your GP for suggestions of suitable activities.
Eating well on a budget
Some people think it’s not possible to eat healthy food on a small budget, but if you plan ahead you can usually save a bit of money as well as giving your body all the nutrients it needs.
Plan your meals and stick to a shopping list so you buy only the items you need. Try supermarket own brands – you can usually find them below eye-level, on the lower shelves. Remember that frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables count towards your five a day and can be less expensive than fresh varieties. For fresh fruit and vegetables, it can be a better value to shop at a local market if there’s one nearby. Try to buy fruit and vegetables that are in season. Check for offers on foods with a long shelf life such as pasta, cereal, and tinned food.
There’s usually a reduced-items section for goods that are reaching their use-by date where you can often find good bargains. If you’re tempted by an offer on perishable foods, check the use-by date. If you can’t freeze it safely, think about whether you will definitely use it before it expires.
If you’re recently bereaved or separated, it can be difficult to adjust to cooking for one and keeping within a different budget. Try not to rely on ready meals: making your own usually works out cheaper and ready meals can be higher in salt, sugar, and fat (see page 22 for information on supermarket food labeling). The BBC Good Food website has ideas for meals you can cook for one, and YouTube has online demonstrations of healthy recipes.
Many of us enjoy a drink now and then but drinking more than the recommended limits can damage our health. Government guidance says we should drink in moderation.
Having wine or beer most evenings, for example with your meal or while watching TV, can be as harmful to your health as binge drinking. It can result in damage to your liver, brain, blood vessels, and other organs, and can cause sleep problems and increase the risk of falls. Having several alcohol-free days each week is a good way to help you drink less.
Check the label on the bottle or can to see how many units it contains or use the alcohol unit calculator on the Drinkaware website.
You should avoid alcohol when taking certain medicines, so always read the leaflet that comes with prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines or herbal medicines. If in doubt, ask your pharmacist.
If you find you are over the recommended limit (no more than 14 units a week on a regular basis for men and women), you may want to start cutting back.
Know what’s in your food
Looking at the food labels found on most pre-packaged foods can help you make healthy choices.
Traffic light color-coding
If food manufacturers offer front of pack nutrition labeling they must use a standard format. Traffic-light colors red, amber and green quickly show you levels of energy, sugars, fat, saturated fat and salts in food.
Red means high, amber means medium and green means low. This helps you see at a glance whether the food has high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, (saturates), sugar and salt. Amber lights indicate the food contains neither high nor low amounts of sugar, salt or fat. The more green lights, the healthier the choice. Red lights indicate the foods you should try to eat less often and in small amounts.
If you’re trying to choose between two similar products, this can help you quickly find the healthier choice. For example, if you’re comparing two similar pizzas in the supermarket, try to go for the one that has more green and amber lights and fewer reds.
‘Use by’ dates
‘Use by’ dates can be found on foods that go off quickly, particularly fresh or chilled foods including meat, poultry, fish, pâté and soft cheese. Even if it seems fine, using food after the ‘use by’ date could make you ill. Don’t take the chance – throw it out.
‘Best before’ dates
‘Best before’ dates refer to the quality of the food, rather than its safety. They are frequently found on foods packaged in cans or jars, or on dried food. Food past its ‘best before’ date won’t make you ill but it might have lost some of its flavor and texture.
Storing and preparing food safely
Many of us assume that food poisoning is more likely if you’ve eaten in a café or restaurant, but you’re just as likely to get ill from food prepared at home. Food poisoning can be more than just unpleasant – it can make you seriously ill.
Many types of bacteria can cause food poisoning, but people over 60 are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning caused by Listeria monocytogenes, commonly known as listeria. It’s rare, but severe cases can be life-threatening. Listeria can live and grow in food. It is most likely to be found in chilled ready-to-eat foods such as pâté, soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert, cooked sliced meat and poultry, smoked salmon and pre-packed sandwiches made with any of these fillings.
A few simple precautions can prevent food poisoning.
- Set your fridge temperature to 5°C or below. This helps stop bacteria from growing. Bring chilled foods home from the shops as quickly as possible and transfer them straight to the fridge.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before handling any food and after handling raw food (such as meat, poultry, eggs, and fish) and its packaging.
- Wash worktops with hot, soapy water or an antibacterial cleaning spray before and after preparing food.
- Use a separate chopping board for raw meat. It can contain harmful bacteria that transfer easily to anything it touches
- Don’t wash raw meat such as chicken before cooking. It isn’t necessary and can splash germs onto sinks and work surfaces. Thorough cooking will kill any bacteria present
- Cover raw meat, poultry, and fish and keep it on the bottom shelf of the fridge, where it can’t touch other foods or drip on to them.
- Cook food thoroughly until it’s piping hot. Chicken, pork, burgers, sausages, and kebabs should be cooked all the way through with no pink meat inside.
- Don’t refreeze raw food that has already thawed. Prepare and eat it, or throw it away.
- If you cook extra portions of food to eat later, cool them at room temperature for about an hour before you put them in the fridge. Reheat food thoroughly until piping hot and never reheat it more than once.
- Always cook eggs well until the yolk is solid. Raw or lightly cooked eggs can contain salmonella, harmful bacteria. Older people are more likely than others to become severely ill if they eat contaminated eggs. Avoid dishes containing raw eggs, such as homemade mousse or mayonnaise.
Try keeping a food diary for a week. It may help you see where you can change your eating habits and eat more healthily. Use the Eatwell Guide to help you make changes for the better.
Help with healthy eating
Fit as a Fiddle has produced some handy recipe books you can download from www.ageuk.org.uk including:
- Healthy living recipe book – a recipe book for eating and cooking well in later life
- Cooking on a budget – healthy meals to make on a small budget
- Cooking for one – simple meals to make in single portions
- Add flavor – a healthy-eating booklet for older people in residential care.
Contact your local Age UK to see if it runs a healthy-eating scheme near you