We know that fats are one of three vital macronutrients that are a necessary part of our diet, although they have been a bad word in the diet industry for decades. In fact, there is a lot of confusion over types of fats, and how much we need, and how that changes at each life stage. For the elderly, nutrition is incredibly important to support a healthy immune system and quality of life, and it comes as no surprise that our relationship with dietary fat changes at this stage. So, here’s what you need to know:
What’s the problem with fat?
As we age, we become less active and burning off excess calories and fat becomes more difficult. This extra weight increases pressure on vital organs and joints, as well as risk of heart disease. Staying at a healthy weight is incredibly important for overall health and wellbeing, and as we enter old age we actually need to reduce our overall caloric intake, including calories from fat.
How much fat do you need?
It is recommended for seniors to get only 20-35% of their daily calories from fat. Speak to your doctor about what your current daily intake of calories should be.
What types of fat?
Avoid trans fat as much as possible, and limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your total daily caloric intake. Trans and saturated fats increase the risk of heart disease, and offer very limited nutritional benefits. Your daily fat intake should come from heart-healthy fats, like polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, found in oils, fish, and nuts.
Fat and weight:
For overweight seniors, restricting fat intake may be one of the best ways to reduce extra weight and risk of heart disease. However, for frail or underweight seniors, actually increasing fat intake can be recommended, as fat is very calorie dense – meaning that someone who doesn’t eat enough will get more calories from less food if they choose a high-fat diet. Always speak to a doctor before drastically changing your diet.
How can I limit fat?
Start by reading labels more carefully – some processed or packaged foods can have extra fats, so avoiding those and opting for healthier packaged foods will make a big difference. Next, be more conscious of the way you cook, as a lot of fat is added during the cooking process via butter and oils. If you eat meat and dairy, choose low-fat or healthy fat options, like oily fish instead of fatty cuts of pork.
Speak to your doctor.
If you are worried about your diet, or that of an elderly loved one, speak to your doctor about a tailored nutritional plan for health and wellbeing in old age.