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Key Nutrition Concerns in Retirement

While I’m only in my first decade of fulltime work, I’m already looking forward to retirement. It sounds so wonderful to have the time and the energy to do the things you WANT to do, rather than what you must do to pay the bills.

I work with many clients who are moving to retirement, or have been retired for many years, and there are some common nutritional principles that are worth being aware of in this time of life.

Plenty of Protein

Sarcopenia, the gradual loss of muscle mass and function, starts from your mid 30s, but the impacts on strength, mobility and stability aren’t often noticed until after retirement. Losing muscle mass can have impacts on metabolic function, blood sugar level management, heart health, bone health and independence.

Maintaining as much muscle mass as possible through diet and exercise is essential to a healthy retirement. Getting adequate protein in your diet can help to minimise muscle loss and there is evidence that it can help to stimulate muscle growth in later life.

The right amount of protein for you is dependent on your age, gender, weight and activity levels and it something that an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) can help you to determine.

Adequate Calcium

Just as muscle mass declines with age, bone mineral density also drops, putting you at greater risk of fracture in the event of a stumble.

While there is mixed evidence about whether calcium supplementation results in improvement to bone mineral density, ensuring you have adequate calcium coming from food sources has been shown to help prevent bone loss.

For men and woman over 70, the recommended calcium intake is 1,300mg per day. This would equate to 3-4 serves of dairy food in a day. For instance:

  • ½ cup milk with muesli
  • ½ cup milk in tea and coffee during the day
  • 2 slices of cheese with lunch.
  • 200g yoghurt with fruit for afternoon tea

 

While calcium is found in other food sources such as tinned salmon, green vegetables and nuts, the volume of calcium is much lower than dairy products. If you don’t like dairy or fortified milk alternatives or suspect that your calcium intake is below this mark, a dietitian can help you find other ways of meeting your calcium requirements from food.

Adjusting Carbohydrates

As your energy needs change with age, it can be helpful to reevaluate your eating patterns. You may find that you are less active in retirement or more active. You may be faced with a chronic health condition such as Type 2 Diabetes or cardiovascular disease. You may find it hard to maintain your weight with the same dietary patterns you have used throughout adulthood.

Carbohydrate contributes to your energy intake and is one aspect of diet that may need to be adjusted, based on a change in your circumstance. For instance, if you are struggling to meet your protein needs and manage your weight, you may need to reduce your carbohydrate intake to accommodate the protein.

Carbohydrate needs vary based on your activity levels, body composition and health goals. Working with a dietitian to determine your energy and carbohydrate needs in retirement can help you to feel confident that you’re supporting your health well into later life.

Meal and snack timing

Without the structure of work, it’s easy to be flexible with meal and snack times. You can stop for a cuppa anytime you want, and put a fresh lunch together in your own kitchen whenever you’re ready. Heaven! However, not having to plan food can result in haphazard and possibly unhealthy patterns of eating.

These could include grazing on snack foods and biscuits, skipping lunch, or having crackers with cheese and wine at 5pm every day. While these are not bad things, they can result in eating more processed foods and more energy than your body needs.

Consider creating a routine pattern of eating that helps you to choose whole foods and lots of fruits and vegetables. What that pattern looks like can be unique to you, but it’s certainly worth considering before unhelpful habits take over.

Motivation to cook

For many of my clients who have retired, cooking has become a chore. They have been preparing dinners for a household of people for decades and they are SICK OF IT. I can fully understand that frustration. I regularly get fed up with cooking, and I’m only 32.

It becomes very easy to just have some cheese on toast or an egg for dinner. There’s nothing wrong with these sorts of dinners, however they are often lacking the variety and volume of vegetables and whole foods that will support long term health.

It’s okay to embrace some convenient methods of meal preparation if it helps you to create a balanced meal. Consider:

  • Using pre-chopped salads
  • Adding frozen vegetables to meals
  • Bulking up meals with canned vegetables
  • Buying pre-prepared meals paired with extra veggies
  • Cooking a big batch and freezing portions for another week

Eating out with friends

One of the best things that I foresee about retirement is the ability to spend more time with friends and family. Catching up for a coffee, having lunch at a café or restaurant, and entertaining friends at home.

When these social eating situations are only happening occasionally, you don’t have to worry too much about what you’re choosing and how much, but if retirement has increased your social activities, it may be helpful to be conscious of how many ‘treat’ meals creep into the week. Take an audit over a period of time, like a month, and count up how many meals and snacks you eat out of the home. Are you happy with how frequently this happens? Are you satisfied with the choices you make in those circumstances?

There is no ‘right’ answer for how often you should eat out or what to choose when you do, but taking the time to think about it can help to clarify what you do and don’t want to be doing.

 

If you would like more help managing these nutritional concerns in retirement, our lovely team of dietitians can help to turn the nutrition principles into practical and achievable habits. Get in contact with our team at The Healthy Eating Clinic or call us on 02 6174 4663.


For individualised advice and support our team of dietitians at The Healthy Eating Clinic want to equip you with habit-based nutrition advice so that you can eat well for the rest of your life! Make an appointment today