Home' Australian Ageing Agenda : AAA Jan-Feb 2014 Contents Current healthy eating guidelines may appear worlds
apart from the meat and three vegetable meals of
decades past. Plates piled high with veggies, fruits
and grains, with meat or cheese merely wafted
past, are the basis of a great nutrition plan for
those in their 30s, 40s or 50s. However, for people heading into
their 80s or 90s, our modern guidelines just aren't the right fit.
Nutritional needs of older people are not the same as those of
younger adults. In fact, for Australia's older population, older-
style meals -- where protein foods take centre stage -- come out
better in comparison.
The good news is that planning menus around the unique
nutrition needs of older Australians is not only of great benefit to
your residents, but also to your bottom line.
NUTRIENT NEEDS NOT CREATED EQUAL
The accumulated wear and tear of age, combined with the effect
of medications and illness, means older Australians actually need
more, not less, of some nutrients when compared to younger
adults. This is especially true for protein. For older Australians,
protein foods such as meat, cheese, eggs, beans and pulses gain
elevated importance. Despite protein's great nutritional value,
older Australians are still eating smaller meals and with that, less
protein. Menu planning in residential facilities needs to focus
on foods which can supply concentrated nutrition -- particularly
protein -- to give residents the best chance of meeting their
unique nutritional needs.
PROTEIN PACKS A PUNCH FOR
Protein builds muscle and muscle is the key to optimising
immune function, maintaining body organs and brain function,
and repairing any damage from accident, illness or surgery.
Muscle forms a reserve of protein, which your body accesses
between meals and at times when protein needs are not being
met through the diet. When you are young, any protein lost from
muscle at these times gets replaced quickly the next time you
eat. But as you get older, replacement becomes increasingly
inefficient and many people don't eat enough protein to keep
supplies up. Inadequate protein results in a gradual loss of muscle
(and weight) that eventually hampers immunity and can increase
the chance of illness; slow down wound repair and recovery from
skin tears, bruising and surgery; hamper organ maintenance;
increase frailty; reduce appetite; and increase risk of falls.
THE COST OF POOR NUTRITION
This gradual cycle of muscle loss and illness is far too common
among older people living in the community. This impacts on
their independence and quality of life, meaning they require
additional assistance with everyday tasks. In residential facilities,
where residents may have already suffered substantial muscle
loss, the effects can eventually be disastrous as immunity
plummets and organs are not able to be adequately maintained.
Muscle loss can also impose substantial costs on the facility.
Affected residents require higher levels of physical assistance
and care sooner than they otherwise would. They are also
more likely to need additional medication, wound care and
In contrast, prevention can be as easy as ensuring residents are
supplied with the protein they need to maximise muscle reserves.
HOW FOOD SERVICE CAN HELP
It's not about heaping plates with meat and nothing else.
Instead, it's about planning meals with texture-appropriate
protein sources such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, nuts or
vegetarian alternatives like baked beans.
And protein choices should be available for three meals
each day -- not just at the main meal. Adding protein-containing
options to the mid-meal choices, such as cheese and biscuits, or
cakes made with added skim milk powder to boost the protein,
can also be helpful. Fortunately, the sorts of meals that are
higher in protein are often familiar and comforting to many older
Australians. The focus should be about good food that helps
residents feel good too. The next priority is adding as many
coloured foods as you can to every meal and snack to boost
antioxidant substances, fibre and variety.
In general, high protein supplement drinks are not essential.
But for those who are not managing to eat adequately at
meal times, powdered skim milk or commercial high-protein
supplement powders can be added to drinks, soups, desserts,
cakes, biscuits, casseroles and other foods to boost protein
intake. Of course, every food service and every resident has
different needs. A dietitian can provide valuable individualised
support to help plan and deliver meals that suit each resident and
food service facility. n
Ngaire Hobbins is an accredited practising dietitian and member of
the Dietitians Association of Australia. She is author of Eat to cheat
ageing, a book for consumers and health professionals. To find an
APD go to www.daa.asn.au
Food and nutrition
Why everything old is new again
Modern healthy eating guidelines aren't the right fit for seniors.
Older-style meals, where protein foods take centre stage, are a
better option, writes Ngaire Hobbins.
52 | JANUARY -- FEBRUARY 2014 | AAA
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