Adults aged 65 and above have been advised to avoid consuming tea with meals, start taking a Vitamin D supplement and eat a more protein-dense diet to stimulate muscle growth.
Written by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s (FSAI) Scientific Committee at the request of the Department of Health, the updated national recommendations are designed to help “enhance older people’s nutritional well-being with the ultimate aim of improving health in later life.”
The over 65 cohort represents almost 14% of the total population, having increased by 19% in the 2016 census to some 630,800 people. By 2051, it is estimated that Ireland will have 1.6 million older citizens.
While dietary intake goals for older adults are similar to those for the general adult population, the report notes there is a need for a more protein-dense diet to prevent frailty while other matters associated with advancing age, such as decreased mobility, frailty and possible dependence on residential care, must also be specifically addressed in dietary recommendations.
Some of the advice within the report relates to tea-drinking, recommending ‘strong tea’ should not be consumed with meals as it interferes with absorption of iron and zinc. Instead, they advise, have your cuppa in between meals.
Consuming adequate amounts of water is also important, especially for older adults who are at risk of ‘low intake’ dehydration. Women should aim for at least 1.6ltrs while males need 2ltrs per day.
The report also warns that one's sense of taste diminishes with age and this can lead to increased salt consumption. Those over 65 should avoid salty foods and instead rely on herbs and spices to increase flavour, they suggest.
The authors also note that diets should contain adequate calorie intake to prevent the development of frailty, muscle loss and undernutrition - but make sure you’re getting your calories from high fibre carbohydrates which are low in free sugars.
The report states that the average intake of carbohydrates for this age cohort is at the lower end of recommended consumption range, but one-third of older people exceed recommended free sugar intake.
The report also reiterates new Department of Health guidelines which advise all adults to take a daily 15 µg vitamin D supplement.
Research from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) suggests one in eight older adults (aged 50 - 98) are deficient in vitamin D at some point during the year, increasing to one in four during the winter period, with deficiency more prevalent among those who don’t take supplements.
Recent studies have suggested the sunshine vitamin can help build resistance to Covid-19, reducing the risk of infection, serious illness and death from the virus.
Ms Ita Saul, Chair of the FSAI’s Public Health Nutrition Subcommittee said there is a noticeable difference in functional ability of older adults alive today compared even with 30 years ago, and it is common sense to support older people living healthy productive lives through health strategies based on changing nutritional needs as we all get older.
“On retirement, people in good health can look forward to entering the ‘golden years’ of their third age, filled with many possibilities and interests.”
“The preservation of muscle mass and skeletal strength are both critical to maintaining functional autonomy and independence as we get older,” she said, and this report looks at how nutrition can allow older adults to “live life, and to live it to the full.”