Good nutrition for older adults

Rhodene Oberholzer shares guidelines to  get all the nutrition you need for optimal health, while living your best possible 60+ life.  

Aging might sound scary for some, and often people dread adding another year to their age. But as the saying goes, you are truly as young as you feel. Every year brings more wisdom, joy and memories. Good nutrition is important for everybody in all stages in life and shouldn’t get ignored once you have reached 60 years.

Eat as much as your body needs

It’s believed that when you are older, you should eat much less food than what you did when you were younger. Energy requirements can change with age, as some might not be as active as they usually were and have less muscle mass, which decreases your basal metabolic rate (BMR) slightly.

Your BMR is the minimum amount of energy you need if you were to rest for the whole day, to ensure that your body can still function properly to keep your heart beating and lungs breathing. Just because you levelled up, doesn’t mean that your body can now function on just a small amount of food.

It’s therefore still important to eat small regular meals that will meet your own personal nutritional requirements and achieve energy balance, so that you can maintain a healthy weight.

Loss of appetite is often seen with older people, which can make it difficult to eat, and can then lead to malnutrition. Malnutrition influences your overall well-being, as it can have adverse effects on the functioning of your body, can increase your risk for diseases and delay recovery from illness.

So, if you struggle with a low appetite, don’t overwhelm yourself with a big plate of food. Focus on small regular meals with snacks in between. Also focus on higher energy foods, such as peanut butter or avocado on toast, full-cream milk, or full-cream yoghurt with fruit. If you continue to struggle with a low appetite, it’s best to go and see your healthcare professional.

Focus on nutrient-dense foods

To ensure that you are meeting your nutritional goals, focus on nutrient-dense foods. This includes lots of fruits and vegetables, at least five portions a day; whole grains, such as brown rice, corn, oats, bulgur wheat and whole grain bread; lean proteins, such as fish, chicken without the skin, eggs, beans and legumes; and unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, canola oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.

Vitamin D and calcium

The ideal would be to meet your nutritional needs through nutritious foods as mentioned above. All nutrients are important for optimal health, especially focusing on vitamin D, calcium, and your B vitamins. As we grow older, we tend to lose bone mass. That is where vitamin D and calcium work together to ensure strong bones and teeth. Without sufficient vitamin D, you can’t absorb calcium into your bones.

Sources of vitamin D include egg yolk, milk, oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and pilchards, some margarines that has been fortified with vitamin D, and of course ensuring that you receive enough sunlight.

Calcium-rich foods include milk and other dairy products; milk alternatives fortified with calcium, such as almond milk or soya milk; green leafy vegetables; fish with bones, such as sardines, and beans and lentils.

B vitamins

Don’t forget about your B vitamins; these have various important functions in the body, such as brain function, nerve function, helping with energy levels, metabolism and is needed for healthy red blood cells.

You get different B vitamins in a variety of food sources. Vitamin B12 is found in eggs, fish, chicken, beef, dairy or fortified cereals. You can find Vitamin B9 (folate) in whole grains, green leafy vegetables and beans and lentils, and vitamin B6 in potatoes, chicken, pork, beef and milk.


Fibre is also a nutrient that plays a vital role in ensuring your gut is happy and keeping regular. It can also help to reduce your risk to develop cardiovascular diseases. Focus on including lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds to ensure that you are meeting your fibre needs.

 If you find it difficult to meet your nutrient requirements, a supplement can be used to give you that boost in the specific nutrient, but it’s best to talk to your healthcare professional about any recommendations.

Hydrate yourself

It’s extremely important that you receive enough hydration through the day. Older adults can be more at risk of dehydration, which is associated with ill health.

Dehydration can increase your risk to developing urinary tract infections, kidney injury, low blood pressure, influence your mental performance and increase hospital stay. It’s therefore particularly important to ensure that you drink enough fluid during the day, even if it means a few extra trips to the bathroom.

Aim for 6-8 glasses of de-caffeinated fluid a day. Make sure that you always have something to drink available and easily accessible at all times, such as a bottle of water or a cup of herbal tea. Ice, jellies, yoghurt and soups also counts towards your fluid intake.


Aging can be one of the best adventures to embark on. By focusing on a variety of food that is rich in nutrients and meeting your energy requirements, and ensuring that you are well hydrated, you will feel great doing it.


Rhodene Oberholzer Leydekkers is a registered dietitian and is passionate about people and wellness. She believes that life is too short to eat a boring meal, as food can be both nutritious and delicious. She encourages her clients to focus on enjoying every meal and is eager to help them build a healthy relationship with food and themselves. She also has a special interest in diabetes management, gut-brain connection and women’s health.

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