Women’s Nutrition: over 65
Updated: May 24
Healthy eating is important at any age but becomes even more so as we reach midlife and beyond. There’s no stopping the clock when it comes to ageing. However, knowing what your body needs to grow old gracefully is often what we all strive for. Keeping your body healthy and eating well can also be the key to a positive outlook, staying emotionally balanced and knowing what is best for our bodies.
Understanding the changes that naturally occur as a process of ageing and being aware of the specific nutrients of interest help us to maintain a healthy lifestyle as we age. The best way to ensure all nutrients are being met is by including a variety of foods from all food groups each day. Generally, as we age energy needs tend to decrease, whilst protein requirements often increase, along with other important nutrients like Vitamin B12, Vitamin D and Calcium.
What are the nutrition requirements as we get older?
Nutrition can play a key role in determining healthy ageing. There are many factors that contribute to the decrease in nutritional status including poor appetite, decline in taste, poor oral health, inability to chew/swallow foods, decreased cognition and the reduced ability to self-feed. These factors often lead to increased frailty, decline in bone health, weight loss and aged related muscle wasting. Therefore, it is important to know the role of nutrients and specific requirements to promote healthy ageing.
Protein requirements may increase with age in specific cases such as wound healing, fighting infections, and recovering from illness. It also helps to preserve muscle mass and strength to maintain health, independence and mobility. It is important to consume quality sources of protein at each meal and mid meals snacks, these can include meat, chicken, fish, eggs, low fat dairy, legumes or alternatives such as tofu. Those with texture modified diets can have softer options such as minced meats or casseroles with extra sauces and gravies.
Calcium is essential nutrient required to keep our bones strong even when we get older. It also plays a role in the function of your heart, nerves and muscles. Adequate calcium can lower the risk of fractures resulting from falls. Calcium can be found in a variety of foods including milk, yoghurt, custard, cheese, dairy based desserts like rice pudding and mousse. It is also found in dark green leafy vegetables, fish with edible bones such as sardines and salmon and calcium fortified foods, for example plant-based milk and tofu.
Vitamin D and calcium often work well together for bone health and helping the immune system function properly. Vitamin D becomes difficult to obtain in the older population due to limited sun exposure and the skin’s decreased ability to synthesise vitamin D. Although there are some dietary sources of vitamin D like fatty fish, egg yolks, fortified products and even mushrooms when exposed to the sun. Older people often need additional vitamin D supplements to help meet their needs.
A decrease in stomach acid with age can affect the absorption of nutrients such as Vitamin B12. This vitamin is essential for making red blood cells and keeping your nerves healthy. Vitamin B12 is often found in animal products such as meat, eggs, chicken and fish.
Hydration is especially important in the older population, as they are often less able to detect and respond to thirst. Staying hydrated is important as it regulates body temperatures, clears toxins, keep your joints lubricated, prevent infections, helps your organs function properly and assists in the management of bowels.
Are nutrition requirements different between older women and older men?
Women need fewer calories than men. Men generally have an overall larger body (both height and weight) and greater muscle mass than women.
In many cases, women have higher vitamin and mineral needs due to the hormonal changes associated with menstruation and child-bearing. Women are more susceptible than men to weakened bones and osteoporosis. This leads to an increased demand for calcium to cater for these needs. The recommended daily intake of calcium increases from 1,000mg in premenopausal women to 1,300mg in postmenopausal women.
However, there are some instances where nutrients decrease for older women. For example, premenopausal women need more iron than men, but after menopause the requirements for iron in women and men become the same.
Common Dietary Problems Associated with Getting Older in Women
Nutritional deficiencies can lead to a range of problems including impaired immune function, loss of muscle mass, poor wound healing, increased risk of osteoporosis and other illnesses.
Osteoporosis weakens the bones to the point where they can break easily. A lack of Vitamin D and Calcium can lead to poor bone health, resulting in fractures and poor dentition as you grow older.
Malnutrition is when the body is lacking in nutrients such as energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. Older people have a risk of malnutrition due to additional factors like chronic health diseases, reduced appetite, decreased ability to self-feed, dementia, certain medications and impaired swallow/chewing abilities.
Constipation is a common problem in older adults, a mix of medications, low fibre diets, inadequate hydration all affect your bowels. Ensuring you get adequate hydration and fibre including wholegrains, vegetables, legumes and fruit will assist in promote bowel health.
Nutritional tips for Older Women by a Dietitian
Eat small, frequent meals and snacks, take every opportunity to optimise nutrition. High energy, high protein mid meals snacks including yoghurt with fruit, milkshakes, milo milk, cheese and biscuits and custard can often also contribute to daily protein and calcium requirements.
Making the most of your portion sizes, a large portion size may be overwhelming for older women with small appetites. Reducing the amount of food on the plate will often make it seem more manageable to finish.
Participate in physical activity and weight bearing activities if able such as daily walks and participating in lifestyle activities often help stimulate your appetite and help maintain your bone health.
Prioritise familiar and favourite foods to encourage oral intake and make food times a good experience.
How can a Dietitian help with a Women’s nutritional needs?
If you experience a loss of appetite, unintentional weight loss or are struggling to meet your nutritional needs. Please talk to your doctor and dietitian to help identify where your diet is lacking. Our Dietitians are experienced with Older Women’s nutritional needs and will help you optimise intake by prioritising certain foods and providing strategies to make the most out of your diet.
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