Most Malaysians love food. However, once you reach your golden years, it is time you need to start rethinking your dietary habits. Urban Health speaks to Datin Dr Farah Diba Khan, Chief Dietitian from Prince Court Medical Centre, on the dietary changes necessary associated with ageing:
How is nutrition affected by ageing?
The ageing process can impact nutrition in many ways. Firstly, you may have altered taste because your taste buds would have changed due to age as well as medications. Many elderly people also tend to have less teeth or wear dentures. All these can disrupt eating habits, hence disrupting nutritional intake.
Many elderly people also eat less simply because they are lonely or depressed. Their appetite seems to be very good during festivals or special occasions when all the family members are around. It is easy for us to forget that eating is very much a social activity.
Is it true that one should eat less as they age?
It really depends on whether you are healthy to begin with. If you don’t have any underlying diseases or if they are under control, you may not need to lower your calorie intake. However, most people tend to be less mobile when they reach menopausal age. With less physical activity, it is advisable to eat less to avoid putting on weight.
What are the foods that are recommended for healthy ageing?
Basically one should still follow the Food Pyramid, which means more starches, fibre and proteins and less oils, sugar and fats. As you age, it is also important to take high-calcium foods and more antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.
How about vitamin and mineral supplements? Are they recommended?
Each person’s body ages differently and thus there is no one answer to this. Some people feel nutritional supplements provide them with higher energy levels, others feel it makes no difference. The rule of thumb is still to check with your doctor whether you are deficient in any vitamin or mineral and whether you need supplementation.
This is especially true for people with health conditions such as diabetes, heart problems or high blood pressure, where you might need a specialized diet such as low-sodium, lipid-lowering or sugar-control diet.
How can seniors eat better and age better?
Exercise is highly recommended, as it helps to regulate metabolism rates. Exercise also produces endorphins, the feel-good hormone, which lifts depressiveness and gives you better appetite. It is also important to have enough sleep and rest. Insomnia caused by hot flushes and night sweats during menopause can affect general disposition, affecting appetite. Women should see their O&G for treatment or relief.
It is important to address the loneliness and depression faced by elderly people as it plays a crucial role in ensuring good nutrition and a healthier lifestyle. If the children or grandchildren are living far away and cannot visit often, consider getting a pet.
Studies have shown that pets can have a tremendous impact on the lives of elderly people, providing not just companionship but also the opportunity to enjoy a second childhood. Having a pet also forces an elderly person to stay active and responsible so that he or she can take care of the pet’s needs.