People aged over 65 are recommended to eat a more protein-dense diet as part of updated recommendations offered by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) this week.

In a new report designed to “enable people over 65 live life optimally to their individual potential”, the FSAI recommends foods such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs as part of more protein-dense diets to prevent frailty.

The 10 nutrients examined with a full set of recommendations are protein, carbohydrate, fibre, fat, B vitamins (folate, vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and riboflavin), vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, iron and zinc.

Key recommendations from the report include:

  • Older adults who are obese with weight-related health problems should receive individual intervention to ensure weight reduction undertaken is beneficial and minimises loss of muscle tissue (slow weight loss with physical activity). 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 amount of drinks. Women need 1.6L and males 2L per day (unless a clinical condition to require fluid restriction).
  • Strong tea should only be consumed between meals and not during meals, as it interferes with absorption of iron and zinc.
  • 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 to stimulate muscle protein: Healthy older adults should eat a more protein-dense diet – foods such as meat poultry, fish, dairy and eggs.
  • Adequate calorie intake to prevent development of frailty, muscle loss (sarcopenia) and undernutrition.
  • Diets should contain high fibre carbohydrates, but low in free sugars. The average intake of carbohydrates are at the lower end of recommended consumption range whilst one third of older people exceed recommended free sugar intake.
  • A daily 15 µg vitamin D supplement is now recommended by the Department of Health for all older adults in Ireland. This report provides specific details on the range of dietary intake recommended for vitamin D in older adults, which vary according to ability to obtain some of this vitamin from sunlight exposure.
  • Fortified foods are a good source of B vitamins (B12, folate, B6 and riboflavin) and vitamin D; whilst unsweetened orange juice, salads, fruit and vegetables are reliable daily food sources of vitamin C. 

Dr. Pamela Byrne, FSAI chief executive, stated that it is important to ensure robust science underpins the development of food-based dietary guidelines that include healthy eating and nutritional recommendations tailored specifically for this cohort.

According to Ita Saul, chair of the FSAI’s Public Health Nutrition Subcommittee, there is a noticeable difference in functional ability of older adults alive today compared even with 30 years ago.

Continuing, she added 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.