In our older years

Enjoying a healthy, balanced diet is just as important in our senior years as when we are younger. Together with staying active, having meals and snacks that are packed with nutritious foods can help our body manage all the changes that naturally occur as we get older.

If we don’t get enough nutrients from our diet, over time this can cause health problems and affect our quality of life. Health experts call this malnutrition and it’s far more common than we might think – around three million people in the UK are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. This can make illnesses and infections more likely and means wounds take longer to heal. Malnutrition can also zap us of energy and leave our muscles weaker, which in turn can affect our balance, posture and strength so we’re at a greater risk of falling. Our mood can also suffer, and we may find it harder to carry out normal activities, making us less independent.

Dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt play an important part in helping us achieve a balanced, nutritious diet throughout life, including in older adulthood. They provide many nutrients that are important for everything from our brains and bones to our muscles and immune system – all of which we need to continue looking after into old age, plus, they’re tasty, versatile and convenient, so a great choice if we have a small appetite, find mealtimes a struggle or don’t feel like cooking.

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LACK OF ENERGY

As we get older, our energy levels can drop and we may feel more tired and lethargic. This can be caused by many things, for example, poor-quality or not enough sleep, feeling anxious, depressed or lonely, and some medical conditions and medications. But what we eat also affects how much energy we have. Not eating enough or going for long periods of time without food can zap us of energy.

Enjoying a healthy balanced diet and eating regularly are important for keeping energy levels up. Dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt play an important part in this as they provide vitamins B2, B5 and B12. These are all nutrients which help reduce tiredness and fatigue.

Milk, cheese and yogurt can also be turned into fuss-free, nutritious meals, snacks and drinks that are ready in minutes. This makes them perfect for times when we don’t have energy to cook. They’re also easy to add to our diet at intervals throughout the day – for example, a milky coffee in the morning, a pot of yogurt at lunchtime or a snack of cheese and crackers in the afternoon, which can help us to eat regularly and prevent drops in energy that can leave us even more tired.

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POOR APPETITE

Many of us find our appetite diminishes as we get older, especially if we often feel unwell, lose our sense of taste and smell, suffer with constipation or other medical conditions, take certain medications, or feel worried, depressed or lonely.

Although we don’t need quite as many calories as we get older, we still need the same amount of most vitamins and minerals as we did as younger adults. Some studies also show having more protein in our senior years may be a good idea to help offset the loss of muscle strength that naturally occurs as we get older.

Having a poor appetite makes it hard to meet our needs for calories and nutrients and means we can lose weight. If we don’t have a good appetite, it’s particularly important to make sure the foods we do eat are packed with goodness. That’s where dairy products shine.

Choosing whole milk and thick and creamy yogurt rather than lower-fat products provides more calories. This makes them good choices if we struggle to eat enough or are losing weight without trying. Eating smaller, more frequent meals rather than three larger meals a day may also be better. Dairy products lend themselves to this way of eating as they can be incorporated into plenty of smaller, nutritious meals and snacks.

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DEHYDRATION

As we get older, our sense of thirst can be reduced so we don’t feel the need to have a drink. Plus, we may consciously drink less because we’re worried we may not reach the loo as quickly as we need to. Having less fluid than we need can make us dehydrated, which in turn can cause headaches, dizziness and tiredness, make it harder for us to concentrate, and make constipation and urinary tract infections more likely.

How much fluid we need depends on our size, how active we are and the temperature – for example, we may need more fluid if our homes are very warm. But as a rough guideline, we should have six to eight mugs, cups or glasses of fluid a day. All fluids, except alcohol, count but it’s important to look at the other nutrients our fluids come with. Soft drinks, for example, come with calories and sugar but no other nutrients.

Milk is a particularly good drink because it’s packed with protein and contains plenty of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iodine and several B vitamins. It also provides calories – whole milk contains more than semi- or fully skimmed varieties – and so is a perfect drink if we have a poor appetite or find we are losing weight unintentionally.

Milk is also versatile and can be turned into many different nutritious and tasty drinks that can help us get enough fluid. Plus, yogurt is a good choice for adding fluid to our daily intake.

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CHEWING DIFFICULTIES

Eating a balanced, healthy diet can be tricky for anyone with difficulty chewing and diets can become dull if the same foods are eaten all the time. Fortunately, milk and dairy products – as well as many foods made from them – can be nutritious additions for anyone who struggles to chew food and so prefers to eat soft foods.

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WEIGHT LOSS

Discovering our clothes are starting to feel loose without any effort is usually a sign we’ve been eating less than our body needs to stay well nourished. This can be caused by many things including a poor appetite, feeling unwell, a low mood, taking certain medications, a lack of energy or desire to prepare meals, or any combination of these. Not having enough calories and nutrients can weaken our defence systems putting us at a greater risk of infections and illness – and means it can take longer to recover if we’re unwell.

Milk and dairy products are an important part of a balanced diet for everyone, but they’re particularly useful if we’ve lost weight unintentionally. They’re a valuable source of calories during times when it’s hard to eat enough to stay nourished – and these calories come naturally packaged with protein, vitamins and minerals. It’s best to replace low-fat products with whole milk, thick and creamy yogurts, and regular types of cheese at this time as these products contain more fat and so provide more calories.

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LOSS OF MUSCLE STRENGTH

By the time we reach middle age, we start to lose muscle as a natural part of getting older – a process doctors call sarcopenia. Between the ages of 40 and 80 years, it’s estimated our muscle mass drops by 30-50%. How quickly this happens depends partly on how active we are – if we’re inactive this tends to happen more quickly – but this loss of muscle speeds up when we’re in our 50s.

Over time, muscle weakness can affect our mobility, balance and posture, making us more likely to suffer with falls and fractures. This can make us even less active, so we lose even more muscle strength. Staying as active as possible, exercising regularly – particularly including muscle-strengthening exercises – and making sure we get enough protein in our diets can help slow down the loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with age.

Protein supports the growth and maintenance of muscle mass. If intakes are low, over time, muscles can start to lose their size and strength. It’s a potential problem for many people in their senior years – 27% of adults aged between 65 and 74 years, and 33% of those over 75 years consume less protein than recommended. Added to this, studies suggest that increasing protein intakes from middle age onwards may be a good idea to help offset the decline in muscle mass that naturally occurs as we get older. Quite simply, it’s better to try and slow down this loss of muscle as much as possible.

This means as we get older it’s even more important to make an effort to include plenty of protein-rich foods in our diet.

Dairy products are a great choice – milk, cheese and yogurt are all rich in this nutrient. Better still, they supply all the essential amino acids – the building blocks for protein – that our bodies need. That’s great news because ‘essential’ amino acids can’t be made in our bodies and have to be supplied in the food we eat. Plus, dairy products go one step further and also provide calcium and potassium, both of which support normal muscle function. And of course, dairy products are a good choice for people who prefer small, frequent meals, struggle to chew food or don’t have the energy or desire to spend ages preparing meals.

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