Essential Nutrients for Healthy Ageing
Author: Nicole Saliba, Accredited Practising Dietitian Date Posted:24 October 2019
Essential nutrients we need to consume more of for healthy ageing
By leading ACCREDITED PRACTISING DIETITIAN, & ACCREDITED SPORTS DIETITIAN- Nicole Saliba
As we approach our golden years it is just as important as ever to prioritise nutrition. Eating a variety of healthy foods each day is vital for keeping your mind and body healthy, reducing your risk of illness and improving the overall quality of your life.
The food we eat provides not just energy, but essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that all contribute to our wellbeing in their own unique and crucial ways. Leading local dietitian and nutritionist, Nicole Saliba, shares her top five nutrients to make sure you’re getting enough of as you age.
1. Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that, when we replace saturated fats in the diet (animal fats) with these fats they help to reduce our cholesterol levels, lower our risk of heart disease and improve our cognition and brain function. Some studies have even linked the consumption of omega 3 fatty acids with a reduced risk of developing depression, and when consumed they may improve mood in people who have depression and other mood disorders.
As our bodies are not able to make omega 3 fatty acids, it is vital to make sure we get enough from our food. Fish and seafood are the most well- known sources of these heart healthy fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are also available in many plant foods, including soybean oils, nuts (especially walnuts) and many seeds such as linseeds, hemp and chia seeds.
Including two to three fish meals per week is a great way to include regular omega 3s in your eating plan.
Fibre refers to the parts of plants that our bodies are unable to digest and break down. Because we don’t have the machinery to break down fibre it passes through our stomach and intestines largely unaffected. When it arrives in the large bowel (AKA colon) it is fermented by our gut bugs and as it breaks down it compounds, which has widespread health benefits. Fibre also provides bulk and softness to our bowel motions and protects against many diseases such as bowel cancer.
There are different kinds of fibres, including soluble fibre, insoluble fibre and resistant starch and most foods contain a mixture of fibres. Soluble fibre helps to soften our stools and is also known to have heart protective properties by helping reduce cholesterol levels. Good sources include oats, barley, vegetables, lentils, beans (dried or canned), nuts, seeds, Bürgen® Rye bread and fruit.
Research has shown us that it is not just about the amount of fibre that you get each day (Adults should aim for 25-30g), but also the variety that counts. Aim for 30+ different types of plant-based foods each week including vegetables, fruits, legumes, bran, whole grains, nuts and seeds for optimal gut health
Protein is so often prioritised as a vital nutrient by the younger generations, but did you know our protein needs actually increase once we reach 65 years? Protein is the building block of every cell in the body, from bone and muscle through to skin and blood. It is essential for wound repair and has been shown to play a huge role in recovery from surgery. A protein rich diet is essential for maintaining strong and healthy muscles, which can prevent falls and fractures, and helps us to stay mobile and independent for as long as possible.
Consuming a good quality source of protein after exercise can help boost muscle building and repair, but it is also important to include protein rich foods spread out regularly throughout the day. This regular protein consumption not only promotes healthy muscles but can also help us to feel fuller for longer and stabilise our blood sugar levels. Protein is readily available from a range of animal and plant-based foods, including lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds.
Another nutrient that we need to consume more of as we age is calcium. Calcium is most widely known for its role in building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth, but it does play other essential roles such as assisting in nerve function and muscle contraction. Because of these other roles, our body needs a constant supply of calcium. In Australia, 65% of adults over 50 have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia - both of which are conditions of poor bone health. Adults should aim for between 3-4 serves of calcium rich foods per day. One serve of calcium is equivalent to ~300mg of calcium and can be found in:
- 250mL of milk or calcium fortified milk such as almond or soy milk
- Two slices cheese (30g)
- ½ cup ricotta cheese
- 200g yoghurt
- ½ cup tinned salmon with bones
- 8 dried figs
- 12 prawns
- 3 tbsp chia seeds
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 300g almonds
- 100g firm tofu set in calcium
5. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a frequently overlooked nutrient, but it plays many essential roles in our body. It contributes to healthy immune function, assists our brain and nervous system, helps regulate mood and works alongside calcium in promoting healthy bones and teeth.
The best source of vitamin D is actually sunlight. Our skin can create significant amounts of the nutrient when exposed to the UV rays from the sun. Over the warmer months, a few minutes per day is generally all that is required to reach your vitamin D needs, but despite this, vitamin D deficiency is very common in Australia. Up to 30% of the population has low levels of vitamin D, with the older population being at high risk of deficiency due to less time spent outdoors and a decline in the amount of vitamin D that the skin is able to synthesise even when it does get enough sunlight.
There are only a few dietary sources of vitamin D, including oily fish and fish oil, eggs and mushrooms that have been exposed to direct sunlight. Including these foods regularly as part of a balanced diet is a great idea, but if your vitamin D levels are below 75mmol/L, it may be wise to include a supplement.
Although it might seem daunting, including these foods regularly throughout the day does not have to be a chore.
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