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CSIRO report offers food for thought on what we eat

Having the correct diet is critically important for seniors, yet many are failing to regularly eat their (lean) meat and three veggies. While cost is a factor, there are ways to eat healthily on a tight budget.

One of the most shocking statistics about the health of Australian seniors is that just four in 10 have three or more different vegetables with their main daily meals. As the CSIRO Healthy Diet Score report revealed, the average diet score was only 55 out of 100 after canvassing more 235,000 people. That’s barely a pass mark.

CSIRO research scientist and co-author of the report, Dr Gilly Hendrie, said although Australians were often perceived as fit and healthy, the low collective score illustrated that we just passed when it came to adopting the national dietary recommendations.

“The score is a stark reminder of the work that needs to be done to improve our eating habits and reduce the national waistline,” Dr Hendrie said.

Yet it’s also understandable why it’s happening. The escalating cost of living makes eating healthier – it generally comes at a premium compared with processed food – more expensive than ever, and many seniors are feeling the bite of a higher cost of living more than most. Even the NSW Government has recommended replacing fresh fruit and vegetables for the cheaper canned or frozen varieties – despite the lower nutritional value.

So, what can seniors do to improve their nutrition and improve that passing grade? The good news is that even in the depths of a cost-of-living crisis, there are options.

But first things first. What does eating well mean?  It’s hard to do if you’re just guessing. After all, bags of sweets often have ‘99 per cent fat free’ claims, which is true, but it’s sugar, not fat, that makes sweets bad for you.

Broadly speaking, adopting a healthy eating regimen involves reducing the intake of meats, fatty foods, processed foods, energy drinks and alcohol. At the same time, you want to increase your consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, water and whole grains. So, how to achieve this healthy outcome?

Prioritise plant-based foods: One of the simplest yet most effective tips for seniors is to embrace plant-based foods. You can still enjoy that BBQ but give plant-based beef or sausages a go. Not because you need to ‘go vegan’ but simply because this means you can continue to enjoy the kinds of meals that you’ve always enjoyed, but now you’re also getting the right nutrients.

Opt for lean proteins:
When you do decide to splash out with proteins, aim for leaner options. Fish and chicken are the two favourites in this regard. Protein is incredibly important for seniors in maintaining muscle mass and overall health, but too often people’s protein intake comes with high-fat beef or lamb. Try to reserve those for special occasions.

Stay hydrated: One of the most incredible statistics for a country as hot and dry as Australia is that most of us aren’t getting enough water. Four out of five Australians suffer from symptoms that are associated with dehydration, and that’s a big problem for seniors because it’s essential for overall health, aiding digestion, joint function and maintaining optimal cognitive function. Seniors should make a conscious effort to stay hydrated throughout the day – the good news is that this nutritional trick is effectively free.

Embrace whole grains: Replacing refined grains with whole grains is a simple yet impactful change. Yes, it means dropping the white bread and learning to appreciate wholegrain, but then there are so many different varieties of wholegrain bread available these days that you’ll be able to find one that suits your palette. Whole grains provide essential nutrients and fibre, promoting digestive health and helping to regulate blood sugar levels.

Explore healthy cooking techniques: Take all of this as an opportunity to explore. Now that you’re retired, you can learn new hobbies and skills, and many people find cooking to be pleasurable. Take up a course or two to learn the basics and then enjoy the journey. Baking, grilling, steaming and sautéing are all proven techniques that can help you maximise nutritional intake while packing in the flavour.

Finally, every senior should speak to their doctor and nutritionist about their diet. Discipline and careful planning are so important in maximising the joy you can derive from these twilight years, and after you speak to your doctor and nutritionist, you’ll find that eating healthily isn’t so much about sacrifice and unpleasant change as it is exploring new horizons. You’re about to discover incredible flavours and meals that you’d had just never considered.

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