Healthy eating does not become a concern at any specific stage of our life but rather is a lifelong commitment to being conscious of what we need. Adjusting our food choices accordingly throughout our lives is necessary to get exactly what our bodies and minds need.
Of course, in our 60s, how we eat may change along with what we eat, but in essence, the guidance centres around a healthy diet to maintain our health and wellbeing while reducing the risk of diet-related conditions and chronic disease.
“Many of us dread this time of our life as we become older and slightly more grey, however it can be an extremely liberating period,” says Blaithin O’Neill, clinical lead dietitian at Spectrum Health. “It is often associated with increased freedom and a reduced dependence from children, meaning more time to really prioritise yourself and your health. It is a time to do all those things we put on the long finger and said we never had time for.”
Cardiovascular disease is a primary health concern for this age group, meaning a balanced diet and appropriate exercise are a priority. When in your 60s, it is ideal to ensure you eat various foods with diverse nutrient profiles.
“As we all know, with ageing there is an increased risk of different chronic health conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and digestive issues, all of which can be prevented through good diet and lifestyle habits,” says O’Neill.
Following a more Mediterranean-style diet has been found to be beneficial in preventing the onset of such diseases and can also help maintain a healthy weight
"But what exactly is this diet? It is based, as the name suggests, on the diet of the population in the Mediterranean that is high in fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, fish and plant-based foods.”
The best foods to eat in our 60s
We can do plenty of things to adopt a more Mediterranean lifestyle, including aiming for five to seven portions of fruit and vegetables per day. “These foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre that help reduce oxidative stress in the body, support a healthy immune system and promotes a healthy digestive system,” O’Neill advises.
Try to aim for half of your plate to be full of vegetables at meal times, and that will make it easier to achieve"
O’Neill also advises increasing your intake of beans, chickpeas, lentils and soybeans as these plant-based foods are packed full of goodness. “They are rich in fibre, provide slow-release carbohydrates, rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals and are an excellent source of calcium, iron and protein,” she says. O’Neill suggests having meatless meals at least once a week, which will improve your health and help the environment.
A Mediterranean diet also comes with replacing trans and saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats. “Recent studies have concluded that replacing saturated and trans fat with mono and polyunsaturated fats can have a positive impact on your health, particularly heart health,” advises O’Neill. “Unsaturated fats are mainly found in plant-based foods such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish.”
In addition to this, we can aim to eat two to three portions of oily fish per week. “Oily fish contains a particular type of polyunsaturated fat called Omega 3,” says O’Neill. “Omega 3 is a long-chain fatty acid that provides the body with numerous evidence-based health benefits, such as reducing cholesterol levels, risk of plaque and clot formation and irregular heartbeats and improved insulin sensitivity of cells. Oily fish include salmon, trout, sardines, tuna, mackerel, and herring. We should be aiming for two portions a week if possible to improve our health and nutritional status.”
We can also focus on low glycemic index wholegrain carbohydrates in our diet by eating oats, brown bread, sweet potato and basmati rice. “They help keep our blood sugars balanced and reduces the risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes,” says O’Neill. “These foods are also high in fibre and therefore keep hunger levels at bay as well as maintaining a healthy digestive system.”
Reducing our intake of processed and convenience foods high in salt and sugar is understandable guidance but not always something we take on board. “Processed foods are unavoidable in our environment, and some of them are perfectly health, such as bread and cereal,” says O’Neill. “However, an excessive intake of foods high in sugar, fat and salt can cause weight gain, high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension and therefore the intake of these foods should be kept to a minimum.”
Aveen Bannon, registered dietitian with the Dublin Nutrition Centre, recognises that just as diet can be good for your heart, brain and mind, it can also protect your eyes. Adding certain nutrients to your diet can also help protect your vision as you age, reducing the risk of certain eye diseases, including ageing macular degeneration and cataract formation.
“Vitamin A, which helps promote good vision, is found in animal products including liver, egg yolks and dairy, but we can also make it from some compounds found in plant foods, called carotenoids,” says Bannon. “Foods that are brightly coloured such as yellow, red, orange and dark green fruit and vegetables contain carotenoids which when we eat them convert to vitamin A.
“Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in blueberries and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale. These compounds are part of the carotenoid family and are particularly important for the health of your eye. Lutein has been shown to act as a filter for blue light, something we can all do with a little less off.
Eat seven or more fruits and vegetables per day to pack your diet with vitamins A and C and include nuts, seeds and whole grains in your diet for vitamin E and zinc"
Eating well, combined with routine physical activity, can help us live a full and active life while also preserving our independence into older age.
Top tips for nutrition and health in your 60s
1) Eat high-protein foods to minimise loss of muscle mass, strength and function.
2) Eat foods rich in calcium to optimise bone health.
3) Prioritise fibre to reduce the risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and lower the risk of constipation.
4) Combining an active lifestyle with a healthy diet. Try to be physically active for at least 30 minutes most days.
5) Alcohol should be enjoyed in moderation.