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Nuitrition & Older People

Reproduced by permission of the Health Promotion Unit, Department of Health & Children.

Enjoying food is important at any age. Healthy food choices keep you fit and strong and may prevent some diseases. Remember, you still need the same vitamins and minerals as you did when you were younger, even if you do not eat as much food.

Think of how you look after a car engine. You make sure it gets the right fuel and keep it active. Your body also needs the right fuel (energy), vitamins and minerals. It also needs to be kept active with regular exercise to stay in good working order. So, eat well and stay active!

We all know what we should eat - the hard part is doing it! Aim to enjoy a wide variety of foods in the recommended amounts, most days of the week. Try to arrange to share meals with relatives or friends. Think about your food choices over the past day. Now look at the food pyramid and compare your choices. Foods providing similar nourishment are grouped together on the shelves of the Food Pyramid. As you can see, it is better to eat more foods from the bottom of the Food Pyramid and less from the top.

The Food Pyramid / Others

  • Fats and Oils - Use a small amount daily.
  • Sugars, Confectionary, cakes, biscuits and high fat snack foods - Use in small amounts and not too frequently.
  • Alcohol - If you drink alcohol, drink sensibly and preferably with meals.

Meat, Fish & Alternatives

  • Choose any two of the following each day.
  • 2oz cooked lean meat or poultry or
  • 3oz cooked fish or
  • 2 eggs (not more than 7 per week) or
  • 6 tablespoons cooked peas/beans or
  • 2oz Cheddar type cheese or
  • 3oz nuts

Milk, Cheese & Yogurt

Choose any three of the following each day:

  • 1 cup of milk or
  • 1 carton of yogurt or
  • 1 oz Cheddar cheese or (Blarney/Edam)

Choose low fat choices frequently if you are watching your weight.

Fruit & Vegetables

Choose four or more of the following each day:

  • 1/2 glass fruit juice or
  • 2 tablespoons cooked vegetables or salad or
  • Small bowl of homemade vegetable soup or
  • 1 medium sized fresh fruit or
  • Small bowl cooked or tinned fruit.

Choose citrus fruits frequently.

Bread, Cereal, Potato, Rice, & Pasta

Choose six or more of the following each day:

  • 1 Bowl of breakfast cereal or
  • 1 slice of bread or
  • 2 tablespoons of cooked pasta/rice or
  • 1 medium potato - boiled or baked

Choose high fibre cereals and breads frequently. You need at least 6 servings each day.

What is a serving?

You may be surprised how easily you can meet the Food Pyramid's goals when you know each tick above represents one serving. Use familiar household items as a guide to serving sizes, for example, from the bottom shelf, two tablespoons of cooked pasta or rice is one serving. Remember, if you eat more than this, to count it as two or more servings in a single portion. An average portion of meat, fish or poultry is about the size of a small pork chop.

Are you getting enough?

1. Fibre

High fibre foods are important for good health. Eating more foods rich in fibre helps to prevent constipation and to safeguard against other bowel problems.

Your Daily Fibre Guide:

  • Having a high fibre cereal for breakfast each morning.
  • Try to use 100% wholemeal bread.
  • Choose at least 2 vegetables each day.
  • Have 1-2 pieces of fruit each day.
  • Try to eat peas and beans regularly

High Fibre Snacks

  • Baked beans on wholemeal toast.
  • Vegetable or lentil soup and wholemeal bread.
  • Mixed dried fruit and nuts.
  • Wholemeal scone and jam.
  • Stewed prunes and custard.
  • Breakfast cereals such as Bran flakes or Weetabix and milk

2. Fluids

Drink 6 to 8 cups of fluid every day including water, tea and fruit juice.

A good fluid intake is important, especially if you are eating more foods rich in fibre.

3. Iron

All parts of your body need oxygen which is carried in the blood by iron. Meat, poultry, fish and offal foods, (liver, heart and kidneys) are all good sources of iron. Other sources include green leafy vegetables, peas and beans and fortified breakfast cereals. Foods rich in vitamin C, for example, orange juice, taken with any of these foods will help your body absorb more iron.

4. Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium from foods and is needed for healthy bones. Vitamin D is made by the action of sunlight on the skin. As people age their skin is less able to produce vitamin D, so older people need to eat foods rich in vitamin D or take a vitamin D supplement. Foods rich in vitamin D include oily fish, milk with added vitamin D, margarines, eggs and liver.

Food Tips

Aim to . . .

1. Enjoy a Wide Variety of Foods

To get all the vitamins, minerals and nourishment you need, enjoy foods from all shelves of the Food Pyramid. If you like your "meat and potatoes" try adding turnips, carrots, parsnips or mushrooms to your favourite stew/casserole.

2. Eat at Least Six Servings of Bread, Cereals & Potatoes

They don't make you fat! Choose high fibre breakfast cereals, for example, porridge with stewed prunes/ Bran Flakes/ Weetabix/ All Bran/ Shredded Wheat/ Muesli or similar cereals (one or more servings). Have at least 3 slices of bread every day and use 100% wholemeal bread regularly (three servings). Eat at least one potato or a serving or rice or pasta at dinner (one serving). This makes a total of six servings already.

3. Eat four or more servings of fruit and vegetables

It's easy if you think about it! Add sliced or dried fruit to your cereal, enjoy a glass of fruit juice, try some vegetable soup or a salad. Get into the habit of eating fruit as a snack food. Whether fresh, frozen or tinned, fruit and vegetables are good sources of vitamins and fibre.


  • Make meal times social events.
  • Join others for meals or start your own lunch club.
  • If you get full quickly, eat little and often!
  • Take as much exercise as you can, out of doors if possible (always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine).

4. Choose Lean for Better Health

Trim the fat from meat and the skin from poultry before eating. An average portion of meat is about 4 oz. Once trimmed, cheaper cuts of meat are as nutritious as expensive ones. If the meat is tough, cook it longer in stews and casseroles (to tenderize before cooking, spoon a little vinegar over raw meat and leave to marinade for 30 minutes). Chicken portions can be economical as there in no waste.

5. Choose Fish more often

Fish is quick to prepare, cook and easy to digest. Try eating oily fish, which is rich in Vitamin D, once a week. It can be fresh, vacuum packed or tinned, (e.g. mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards, tuna or salmon).

6. Eggs

Two eggs can be used instead of one serving of meat, poultry or fish for a main meal. Eggs can be scrambled, boiled, poached or occasionally fried in a little oil.

7. Don't Forget Your Dairy Foods

Bones of all ages need calcium. Choose dairy products such as milk, yogurt or cheese and have three servings every day. If you are watching your weight, choose low fat varieties.

8. Spice It Up

Taste food before adding flavourings. Herbs, spices and pepper can be used more often as alternatives to salt.

NOTE: If you have a medical condition such as diabetes, some of the information in this article will not be suitable for you. Contact your doctor or dietitian for advice on your diet.