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Older people

All adults need a varied and balanced diet to ensure we get enough essential vitamins and minerals. We also need to make healthy choices when it comes to our lifestyles. 


As we age, there are some elements of diet, nutrition and lifestyle we may need to change or pay more attention to. It is also common to become less interested in food. You may find that you are less hungry than you used to be, so it can be harder to get all the nutrients needed for good health.


Our sense of taste and smell can change as we age, which can affect our appetite and how much we like food. Make foods as tempting and tasty as possible so that eating stays enjoyable. Try varying colours and textures as much as possible or adding herbs and spices such as mint, rosemary, cinnamon or paprika.


Dr Stacey Lockyer, Senior Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals essential for good health. They are also generally low in fat and high in fibre. Many studies have shown that people who consume diets high in fruit and vegetables have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer.


We should all be aiming for at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day. This includes fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables, as well as smoothies and 100% fruit juices.

Did you know?

Beans and pulses, such as kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils and baked beans, can also count towards your 5 A DAY target

One portion is about 80g.

Choose healthier fats

There are two main kinds of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Eating a diet rich in saturated fat can raise your blood cholesterol level and increase your risk of heart disease. Reducing saturated fat and replacing some of it with unsaturated fat can reduce your risk of heart disease..


Butter, lard, ghee, palm oil and coconut oil contain a high proportion of saturated fat. Other foods with a relatively high saturated fat content include cakes, chocolate, biscuits, pies and pastries. The white fat you see on red meat and underneath poultry skin is also high in saturated fat.


Vegetable oils (such as rapeseed, olive, sunflower, soya, sesame oils) and fat spreads made from these oils are a healthier alternative to saturated fats. These are high in unsaturated fatty acids. Oily fish, including mackerel, sardines, pilchards and salmon, contain unsaturated fats called omega-3 fats, which can also help heart health.

Healthier swaps

It’s easy to make small changes to cut back on saturated fat. Here’s some examples of simple swaps you can make to reduce the amount of saturated fat you consume:

Swap To

Cream Plain yogurt

Whole milk Semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk

Fried foods Grilled or steamed foods

Butter, lard, ghee, palm oil Oils like olive or rapeseed oils and spreads made from them

Pastries Wholegrain toast with peanut butter/ chopped banana

Regular mince Lean or extra lean mince

Include oily fish in your diet

All fish and shellfish provide us with a range of vitamins and minerals, but oily fish, such as herring, salmon and mackerel, are rich in omega-3 fats which may help protect against heart disease. For this reason, we are advised to eat at least two portions (140g cooked weight) of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish.


There is currently a lot of interest in the role of these fats on many other age-related conditions. For example, some research suggests they may help to alleviate some of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. But because oily fish can contain contaminants you should not eat more than four portions per week (or one portion of swordfish as this may be high in mercury).


For more information on fish read this page on fish and shellfish from the NHS.

Healthy eating tips for older people

Get enough fibre

Eating plenty of fibre-rich foods, such as wholegrains (like wholegrain breads, wholegrain breakfast cereals, brown rice, wholemeal pasta), fruit, vegetables and pulses (like lentils, kidney beans and chickpeas), will improve digestive health and can help to protect against heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.


High-fibre foods may help you to stay fuller for longer so can be useful if you are watching your weight. It is also important to drink enough fluids or water when eating a diet high in fibre.

Stay well hydrated

Older people are at greater risk of dehydration than younger people. Our thirst sensation can decrease as we age so it is easy for dehydration to go unnoticed. 


Early signs of dehydration include dizziness, tiredness and headaches. Long-term mild dehydration increases the risk of kidney stones, constipation and cholesterol problems.


Six to eight drinks are recommended each day to replace fluid that is lost from the body. Water is a great choice but tea, coffee and fruit juice all count. You will need to drink more if the weather is hot or humid or if you are physically active

Reduce your salt intake

Salt (sodium chloride) is the main source of sodium in our diet. While a small amount of sodium in the diet is necessary for health, it can raise blood pressure (raised blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke and heart disease). 


Adults should eat less than 6g (about a teaspoon) of salt per day. The food industry is reducing the amount of salt in many foods, but a lot of the salt we eat is already added to the foods we buy, and it is important to look at the labels to select lower salt options. For more information read our page on looking at labels.

Did you know?

A decreasing sense of taste as we age can encourage us to add more salt to meals for flavour.

Watch the amount you add at the table, and try to use herbs, spices and a variety of different foods or ingredients to flavour meals instead of adding salt.

Mind your micronutrients

We can’t make (most) vitamins and minerals in our body so we must get them from our diet.

Boosting your B vitamins

B vitamins have a range of important functions in the body, including contributing to healthy red blood cells, releasing energy from the foods we eat, normal nerve function and vision, healthy skin, and reducing tiredness.


Sources of B vitamins in the diet include:

  • Folate/folic acid: Some green vegetables, and fortified grains and grain products
  • Vitamin B6: Fortified cereals, peanuts, pork, poultry, fish, milk and vegetables
  • Vitamin B12: Animal products (such as fish, meat, eggs, or dairy), fortified breakfast cereals and other fortified foods such as soya drink

Calcium-rich foods

Calcium is important to keep our bones healthy. After the menopause, women are at a higher risk of osteoporosis and reduced bone density. This is because the hormone oestrogen helps to reduce bone breakdown and after the menopause, less oestrogen is produced. So, it is particularly important that older women get plenty of calcium from their diet to minimise bone loss.

Milk, cheese and yogurt are rich in calcium, but other sources include fish with edible bones (such as canned salmon or sardines), some green leafy vegetables like kale, calcium fortified soy products (such as soya drink, tofu), white bread and fortified breakfast cereals.


You should be able to get all the calcium you need from your diet, but if you do take calcium supplements, be careful not to take too much – stick to less than 1500mg per day

Vitamin D supplements

Vitamin D plays a key role in bone health and muscle function. Low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of falls and fracture. 


The Government recommends that, all adults should consider taking a daily 10µg (micrograms) vitamin D supplement between October and March.


During the autumn and winter months, sunlight isn’t strong enough to make enough vitamin D in our skin. It can be difficult for us to get enough vitamin D from our diet alone because it is only found in a limited number of foods including oily fish, eggs, and vitamin D fortified foods such as some breakfast cereals, fat spreads and dairy products.


People at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency should take a daily supplement containing 10µg of vitamin D throughout the year. For example, those living in a care home, housebound or who wear clothes that cover most of the skin while outside. People with darker skin are also at higher risk.

Supplements should not replace a healthy diet

There are some people that will be prescribed supplements, for example iron supplements for iron deficiency anaemia. Some people choose to take other supplements because they believe they will benefit their health, but we don’t have strong evidence that taking supplements benefits our health.


If you do decide to take supplements, it’s important to remember that supplements do not replace a balanced diet! It is also important to remember that supplements can be harmful if you take too much, so don’t take more than it says on the label.


For example, according to some research, having more than an average of 1.5mg a day of vitamin A over many years may affect your bones, making them more likely to fracture. This is important for older people, especially women, who are at higher risk of osteoporosis (weak bones). If you take supplements containing vitamin A, make sure your daily intake from food and supplements is not more than 1.5 mg (1,500 µg). You often find vitamin A in multivitamins and in fish oil supplements. Also if you eat liver or liver pate more than once a week, you may get too much vitamin A. 

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Please note that advice provided on our website about nutrition and health is general in nature. We do not provide any individualised advice on prevention, treatment and management for patients or their family members.