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Nutrition for seniors


Jan Van-772Eating well is important at any age, but seniors requires a little specialised fine tuning as there are often health challenges to consider. Usually defined as a retired person, the term ‘senior’ generally refers to someone aged 60 – 65.

Whether we embrace aging or not, the reality is that bodily processes do slow down: digestion, metabolism, cellular renewal slows, the heart may not be working as efficiently (blood pressure may increase), often appetite is decreased, medication has often been prescribed, perhaps we are a little less active.

Here are a few points I address in practice to get things heading in the right direction.

Stomach acid production decreases with age
A fine balance of hydrochloric acid, enzymes and bacteria is vital for breaking down food in our gut, especially protein, and helps with absorption of nutrients. Consider adding a little culinary acid to your meal – a drizzle of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar either prior to a meal in a small glass of warm water, or add a small amount to your meal, such as a salad dressing. 

Include soluble and insoluble fibre
Soluble fibre helps transport waste such as LDL cholesterol (the unhealthy kind,) unwanted hormones, heavy metals and other toxic debris the liver wants to eliminate via the bowel for removal. Great food sources are linseeds, rice bran, oat bran, barley, seaweeds, mushrooms, nuts and seeds, legumes, apples, prunes.
Insoluble fibre adds roughage and provides bulk to stool, encouraging bowel movement. It also increases beneficial bacteria aiding the production of fatty acids to form our ‘healthy cholesterol.’ Good sources are whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, raw nuts/seeds.

Ensure calcium intake is adequate
important for bone density and strength, calcium is found in dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, bony tinned fish and dairy products. Ensure the supplement you take contains the right form of calcium. 

Vitamin D
Works in conjunction with calcium to promote bone health and strength. Vitamin D is naturally absorbed by the body through sunlight, but can also be found in certain types of fish and fortified foods like orange juice or milk.

Plays a part in many body processes like glucose and blood pressure regulation and is required for muscle relaxation. Magnesium is found in many plant and animal food sources, especially dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. As New Zealand soil is deficient supplementation may be required. Check you are taking the right form and quantity.

Vitamin C
Plays a role in the absorption of proteins, as well as the creation of connective tissue, which is vital for wound healing and a healthy immune system. Brightly coloured fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables are the best sources of Vitamin C.

Vitamin E
The antioxidant qualities of Vitamin E allow it to combat disease-causing free radicals. This vitamin also supports immune and cardio vascular systems function. Found in nuts, seeds, and cold pressed vegetable oils.

Vitamin B6
B vitamins perform many functions in the body, primarily supporting protein absorption and cognitive function. The richest sources of B vitamins are fish, organ meats (like liver), potatoes, and other starchy vegetables.

Of special interest is the copious amount of tea and coffee often consumed by seniors! I try and encourage reducing the amount to one or two cups per day and consume away from meals. Black/Gumboot tea and coffee contain tannins and caffeine that bind to minerals and nutrients, especially black tea which binds to iron and can leave levels depleted. Herb teas, green tea and water, (warm or cool) are perfect alternatives. 

Jan van der Lee is a Clinical Nutritionist based at Waipu Natural Health, phone 09 432 1325, or visit waipunaturalhealth.co.nz

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