Eating well is a great way to stay healthy and help to prevent falls. Choosing a wide variety of foods, especially in their whole form, will provide all the vitamins, minerals, and protein that you need to be in the best possible health. The figure below shows how many servings from each food group older adults need each day.
- Try not to skip meals. Aim to have three meals each day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) with snacks in-between. This is especially important when your appetite is low or if you have lost some weight.
- Wherever possible choose whole foods. That is foods that have not been processed. Whole foods have more vitamins, minerals, and fibre than their processed alternatives E.g., choose wholegrain breads and cereals and have a piece of fruit rather than a glass of juice.
- Include protein foods at each meal (and snack if possible) – see the box below for examples of protein-rich foods. Protein foods help to keep muscles strong and are needed for a strong immune system.
- Choose 3-4 serves each day of high calcium foods to help with bone health. Dairy products* (milk, cheese, and yoghurt) are the richest sources of calcium, especially yellow-top milk. Canned fish with bones (salmon or sardines) and nuts such as almonds or Brazil nuts are good non-dairy sources of calcium and are also packed with protein.
- Keep well hydrated. Dehydration can lower blood pressure and lead to feeling faint or dizzy which increases the risk of falling. Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water, low-fat milk, tea or coffee each day unless you have been advised not to by your doctor.
- Eggs – up to a 6/week is OK
- Legumes and lentils e.g., baked beans or lentil soup
- Meat, fish, and chicken – fresh or canned
- A handful of nuts or some nut butter
- Dairy products such as milk, cheese or yoghurt*
*if you prefer plant-based dairy alternatives, it is best to choose ones that are fortified with calcium.
Having a stable weight that is neither too light nor too heavy helps reduce the chance of falling. Weight loss is not an expected part of ageing and having a little extra weight can be protective of both falling and of being injured in a fall. If you lose weight without meaning to it is a good idea to discuss this with your GP or other health professionals.
There are simple food-first strategies that can help to make the most of each mouthful:
- Eating little and often – appetite can decrease as we get older, so having three small meals with high energy high protein snacks between meals can increase overall food intake
- Add high protein extras – grated cheese, skim milk powder, ground nuts or nut butters can all be added to foods to increase the overall protein intake.
- Include protein rich foods at each meal – aim for a serving of protein-rich eggs, meat, fish, chicken, nuts, or legumes at each meal.
- Add high-energy extras – the addition of 1-2 tablespoons of oil, margarine, cream, or butter increases your energy intake to help prevent weight loss and let protein be used for rebuilding muscle or healing wounds.
Where food-first strategies do not help to improve nutrition status, specialised nutrition support from a registered dietitian is recommended. Dietitians will tailor nutrition advice to meet your health needs and preferences and has been shown to help reduce the risk of falls in undernourished older adults.
In summary, a nutrient-dense diet with adequate energy and protein contributes to safe mobility and enhanced strength, balance, and cognition. Together with a stable healthy body weight, these nutritional factors can greatly reduce falls risk.
Sue MacDonell, PhD
New Zealand Registered Dietitian
TBI Health Dietitian Services
Learn more about TBI Health Dietitian Services, and how you can book an appointment with our Dietitian here.