Making every mouthful count: a guide to healthy eating for older adults

Accredited Practising Dietitian Victoria Laios provides practical nutritional tips, to assist our ageing population meet their nutritional needs, improve quality of life and combat the upcoming rise of malnutrition.

A growing and ageing population

In Australia, our population is growing with increasing age and life expectancy. Malnutrition is on the rise within the community. The condition affects 1 in 10 older Australians aged 65 years and over, with 40% being considered as “high risk”.

Malnutrition is associated with serious health complications including muscle wasting, poor wound healing, as well as increased risk of developing osteoporosis and infections. And let’s not forget reduced quality of life. This issue is under-recognised and often overlooked in the wider community. Therefore, we need to ensure that our elderly population is well supported in receiving adequate care and nutrition.


The ageing effect – why nutrition is key?

Good nutrition plays a key role in healthy ageing and quality of life. Especially, when there are many physiological changes associated with the ageing process. Physiological changes which can impact upon nutrition intake include:

  • Early satiety
  • Oral factors: ill-fitting or loose dentition, chewing and swallowing problems
  • Medication side effects: dry mouth, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting
  • Cognitive impairment: Dementia
  • Bowel and gastrointestinal issues: constipation


Being undernourished may result in loss of weight and muscle strength. This leads to functional decline, increased risk of falls and reduced capacity to remain mobile and independent.


Top 5 Healthy Eating tips:

When it comes to providing adequate nutrition, making every mouthful count is key. For all elderly individuals out there, here are 5 important nutrition tips to keep you on top of your game:

  • Having smaller meals and snacks throughout the day

For those with a smaller appetite, having a total of six smaller meals can be better tolerated than three larger main meals. Remember that quality overrides quantity – meals should be packed full of nutrition. Snacks in-between meals are a great way to get in adequate nutrition. Some nutritious snacks to consider include fruit with custard, nuts, yoghurt and dry biscuits with cheese.


  • Choosing high protein/energy foods and nourishing drinks

Eating foods high in energy and protein will keep you nourished, maintain muscle mass and provide you with much needed energy. A good guide is to include protein foods (red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, legumes) at all main meals. You can also enrich your meals by adding spreads (butter, jam, honey and avocado) on toast, grated cheese to vegetables and cream in soup dishes. Nourishing drinks such as juices and milk-based beverages (Sustagen or iced-coffee) are also great alternatives to water, tea and coffee.


  • Adequate dairy intake for calcium

As we get older, our calcium needs increase. Calcium is important for building and maintaining bones, thereby reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis. Dairy products contain a high level of absorbable calcium. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that men aged over 65 years should consume 3 serves and women 4 serves of dairy each day. A serve is equal to a glass of milk (250ml), 1 tub yoghurt (200g), ½ cup of white cheese (ricotta and feta) or 2 x slices hard cheese (tasty, cheddar and parmesan). Don’t shy away from the dairy – try adding some cheese to a sandwich and salad or even having a glass of milk at breakfast.


  • Fibre and fluids

Dietary fibre is an important component, to maintain a healthy digestive system and prevent constipation. Fibre-rich foods to include are fruit and vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals, nuts, seeds, legumes and pulses. So how can we get enough in? Starting off by having our 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables daily. For fibre to effectively perform its function, it is also important to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water throughout the day.


  • Variety and keeping things interesting

Overtime with age, appetite reduces and eating becomes less of a priority. In fact, it has been shown that incorporating a variety of foods can increase the pleasure associated with eating. So enjoy a sweet and your favourite foods. Eating shouldn’t have to be a chore.


When it comes healthy ageing, adequate nutrition is a high priority. It needs to be at the forefront of people’s minds. The strategies provided are a general guide, in order to overcome some of the challenges associated with eating. It is recommended that you visit an Accredited Practising Dietitian, to seek more individually tailored advice.