Many older Australians are living alone either by choice or due to circumstances such as “empty nest syndrome”, being widowed or divorced, or having a partner who travels a lot for work. However, living alone does not mean having to compromise on good nutrition which is an important determinant of quality of life, health and life expectancy.
In Australia, 10% of older people (> 65 years) living in the community suffer from under- nutrition and 40% are considered to be at high risk. So why are so many older Australians not meeting their recommended nutrient and energy intake? Living alone is a risk factor for poor nutrition.
Many older people do not realise that they require a higher nutritional intake than younger people, especially when it comes to protein, calcium, vitamin D and some vitamin Bs. For instance, older people need 20% more protein each day than younger adults to prevent muscle loss and frailty. The Australian Dietary Guidelines (www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines) recommend older adults eat a variety of foods within the five core food groups to ensure nutritional adequacy.
So, is it possible to eat nourishing home cooked meals for one? Of course it is! Meal planning is the key to healthy eating. Start by writing shopping lists with the five core food groups as headings – vegetables, fruit, grains (cereals), protein foods and dairy or dairy alternatives. This will help you from straying into the “junk” food aisles and keep to your food and energy budget. Healthy eating is all about making healthier habits easy.
Here are five easy healthy eating habits:
- Veg Out! – fill half of your plate every day with colourful non-starchy vegetables. Include cruciferous vegetables such as Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage or broccoli, as these are thought to have special anti-cancer properties. Frozen vegetable bags make an easy addition to any meal for one and are comparable in nutrients to fresh vegetables. Check out the variety of salad bags on offer at supermarkets. Bulk up a salad for satiety with legumes – try a mixed bean and tuna salad.
- Prioritise protein at each meal – pick a protein- eggs, lean red meat, skinless chicken or turkey, tuna, salmon, lentils, or tofu – to cover a quarter of your plate. Canned fish (sardines, tuna, mackerel, or salmon) provides the perfect portion for one. Egg dishes such as frittatas, quiche, and omelettes work well with leftovers.
- Adopt the Mediterranean Diet – It is one of the most studied diets for chronic disease prevention – especially people at risk of a heart attack or stroke. Eat plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, nuts, seeds, sofrito (tomato based sauce with garlic, onion, herbs) with seafood, poultry, less red meat and snack on Greek yoghurt, feta, cottage or ricotta cheese.
- Don’t fuel up on “junk”! Australians love “junk” food. 35% of their daily energy comes from “junk” food. “Junk” food has little nutritional value and is high in energy, sugar, salt, saturated and trans fats. It is easy to fill up on energy but nutrient rich foods are the key for healthy ageing. Eating “junk” foods three or more times a week can lead to obesity and chronic inflammation. Ageing itself is associated with diseases of chronic inflammation, so why stoke the fire!?
- Drink water to keep well hydrated – avoid sugary drinks such as soft drinks, fruit juice and avoid adding sugar to coffee or tea.
Tania Mathewson is an accredited practising dietitian (APD). She works in the community as well as aged care in Canberra and Queanbeyan.
For further individual nutrition advice find an APD in your area by visiting the DAA website at www.daa.asn.au or call 1800 812 942