How to eat well: Don't let age ruin your appetite

By Ian Marber, November 8, 2012

One might be forgiven for thinking that nutrition advice is something that applies only when we want to lose weight or feed kids. But a good diet applies to people of all ages, not least those in later years.

Brought up in a world of home-cooked foods, rather than the sort of stuff that comes in a microwavable tray, older people often feel an interest in nutrition isn’t relevant to them (after all, they have managed to get this far without dietary advice).

For those who have been cooking for several decades, making food for “just me/us” sometimes doesn’t feel worth it, and a piece of toast with jam or a few biscuits is enough to keep stop hunger. Appetite can wane along with interest in food, so how do older people benefit from what good nutrition has to offer?

The answer? Keep eating well even if interest and appetite wane. Obviously the body requires all the nutrients at all ages, but some take on more importance with passing years.

For example, vitamin D and calcium are especially important — the former as it is largely made in the skin in response to UV light, a mechanism that can be less effective over time. Vitamin D has many roles, including helping to metabolise calcium, required in later years to help strengthen bones and support the immune system.

'The body requires all the nutrients at all ages, but some take on more importance with passing years'

As with nutrients, all the food groups are important, and the challenge is to eat nutrient-dense foods that appeal in the way that, say, toast and jam might. My advice is to eat small amounts at regular intervals to keep energy levels up and boost metabolism.

Always eat protein with vegetables or fruit along with a wholegrain. That might be a piece of toasted granary bread with sugar-free peanut butter and an apple for breakfast, chicken soup (with plenty of chicken) at lunch and fish with vegetables and brown rice in the evening.

Useful snacks are unsalted nuts, seeds, full-fat cheese or yogurt, fresh or dried fruits, all of which are full of nutrients and should provide consistent energy.

The main trick is to keep eating the sort of fresh home-cooked food you might have done before — lean protein, good fats, fresh produce, wholegrains and little sugar or saturated fats.

Ian Marber is one of the UK’s most highly regarded nutrition experts and the author of 11 books.

Last updated: 12:46pm, November 8 2012