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​ Nutrition plays an important role in preventing or slowing down the onset or progression of frailty. Food high in protein helps to maintain muscle strength and food high in calcium and vitamin D help to preserve bone mass, thus reducing the risk of falls and fractures.

Knowing your risk of malnutrition

You are at risk of not having enough nutrition if you:​

  • Have been losing weight without trying
  • Experience loss of appetite and are eating less than usual, e.g. less than half what you usually eat for a period of five or more days
  • Have difficulties eating, e.g. poor dentition, swallowing problems
  • Find yourself getting weaker and less able to do daily activities, e.g. wash the dishes, cook, go to the toilet and marketing.
  • Are underweight.

Tips to help you improve your nutritional intake

  • ​Eat your biggest meal when your appetite is best, such as at breakfast.
  • Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day, e.g. every 2-3 hours or 5-6 meals/day.
  • Drink nourishing fluids, e.g. milk, soy milk, milo or fruit juice instead of plain water
  • Eat your food in the following order to maximise your calorie and protein intake: ​
    • ​Protein-rich food (e.g. meat, fish, egg, tofu),
    • Starches (e.g. rice, noodles, bread), ​
    • Fruit and vegetables
    • ​Soup
  • Drink fluids at least 30 minutes apart from meals to prevent you from feeling full or bloated.
  • Enjoy your meal times by eating with family or friends, or by listening to your favourite music.​
  • Make your food available wherever you go, e.g. a thermos filled with your choice of smoothie or a small bag filled with nuts and/or dried fruits.
  • Choose foods with pleasant aromas that you enjoy. Boost the taste and smell of food with seasoning and spices such as sesame oil and marmite.
  • Use a larger plate and put small food portions on it to make the amount of food appear less overwhelming.

Protein intake

  • Protein is important in the management of frailty as our muscles are made up of protein.
  • Having enough protein intake will help to maintain your muscle health and prevent muscle loss.

How much protein do you need per day?
  • Aim for two-three servings of protein per day to maintain muscle mass and strength (together with exercise). 
  • In general, frail elderly people need at least 1-1.2g of protein per body weight (in kg). Do follow your doctor/dietitian’s advice on the amount of protein to take if you have any renal conditions or have been advised otherwise.
Tip: Include some exercise soon after the meal to help your body further build your muscles.
Calcium intake and Vitamin D
  • ​Calcium and Vitamin D are essential in maintaining strong bones to prevent and delay the progression of osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones) in older adults.
  • Good sources of calcium include dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese), calcium fortified soymilk and tofu/tau kwa. 
  • The best source of Vitamin D is the sun. Try to let the sun shine on your arms and legs for 2-3 times a week. The best time to do so is anytime between 10am and 3 pm, for about 5 to 30 minutes. 
  • If you are unable to get adequate sun exposure, you can include some vitamin D-rich foods into your diet
  • If you are taking a calcium supplement or multivitamin, choose one that contains Vitamin D.
  • If you feel that you are still struggling to increase your nutritional intake and are still losing weight, please speak to your doctor about seeing a dietitian.

​- Article contributed by ​Geriatric Medicine, Department of Integrated Care -​ ​​​

Senior Health; Caregiving; Food & Nutrition

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