Older people should abstain from drinking strong tea with meals and be aware that a diminished sense of taste contribute to them consuming more salt than is good for them, according to Ireland’s food safety watchdog.
Other recommendations in a new report published by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) include advice for older people to eat more protein, drink more fluids and take Vitamin D supplements in order to improve their long-term health.
The report was compiled by the FSAI's Scientific Committee at the request of the Department of Health and focuses on the over 65s, the fastest growing age group in Ireland. According to the 2016 census the cohort has increased by 19 per cent to 630,800 people or 13.8 per cent of the total population.
Older adults represent a diverse group with some healthy and fit but others living with chronic conditions and diseases, which compromise activity levels and mobility and have an impact on their nutritional requirements.
The report covers all these factors and describes various dietary approaches which it says are optimal for managing the varying nutritional requirements of the older population in Ireland.
In general, the dietary advice for older adults is similar to that for other adults but particular nutritional issues relating to ageing, such as the need for a more protein-dense diet to maintain strength and bone health , require more specific food-based dietary guidelines, the report says.
The report notes that older adults who are obese and living with weight-related health problems should “receive individual intervention to ensure weight reduction undertaken is beneficial and minimises loss of muscle tissue.” Lower risk older adults who are overweight are advised to avoid weight-loss diets in order to prevent loss of muscle mass.
Older adults at risk of “low intake” dehydration need adequate amounts of drinks with women advised to drink 1.6 litres and men two litres daily. However strong tea should only be consumed between meals and not during them, as it interferes with absorption of iron and zinc, the report says.
It also warns that the sense of taste “diminishes with age and can lead to increased salt intake; therefore, consumption of salty foods should be avoided and alternatives such as herbs and spices can be used to increase flavour”.
High quality proteins including meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs should be consumed to stimulate muscle protein while there should be an adequate calorie intake to prevent development of frailty, muscle loss and undernutrition.
The report also recommends that an older person’s diet should contain high fibre carbohydrates and be low in free sugars. A daily vitamin D supplement is also recommended
"This report sets out a number of science-based recommendations that will underpin national guidelines being prepared by the Department of Health, to support optimal nutritional status and health of older adults in Ireland," said the FSAI chief executive Dr Pamela Byrne.
“Due to considerable variations in the ageing process, food-based dietary guidelines are best tailored to functional capacity rather than chronological age.”
The chairwoman of the FSAI’s Public Health Nutrition Subcommittee, Ita Saul, said there was “a noticeable difference in functional ability of older adults alive today compared even with 30 years ago, and it is common sense to support older people living healthy productive lives through health strategies based on changing nutritional needs as we all get older.”