Food and Mental Health for Older Adults- COVID-19

Changes in daily schedules and support, boredom, the closure of restaurants, availability of food in supermarkets and isolation can cause many people, especially the elderly to consume a less varied, balanced diet. During this time, it is important to try to ensure the brain is receiving what it needs to function well.

  • Energy: Our brain uses 20% of our bodies energy and when we do not eat enough of the right foods, we struggle to give our brain the energy it needs. A lack of energy from food can cause a lower concentration, lethargy and increased irritability. Glucose in the food we eat is converted to energy and the most effective way of getting this is by eating carbohydrate foods regularly. These include breads, oats, pasta, rice, potatoes, cereals, beans, fruit and starchy vegetables.
  • Sugar and sugary foods: These contain energy, however, they can cause levels to peak and drop quickly in comparison to more healthy carbohydrate foods which will keep energy levels consistent and that contain other nutrients beneficial for good health.
  • Protein: Protein is our bodies building blocks and a lack of this can cause poor recovery from illnesses. Tryptophan is a type of protein that can help with depression and is found in chicken, turkey, eggs, cheese, peanuts, seeds, soya and tofu. (1). Preparing a large meat dish like a chicken casserole and freezing it in batches, to be defrosted and reheated when needed is a good way of ensuring there is a protein rich meal available when regular food shopping is not possible.
Eggs are a great source of protein and are quick and easy to cook
  • Fruits and Vegetables: These contain vitamins and minerals that all contribute to brain health, therefore try to achieve at least five portions a day. Canned and frozen all count as well as fresh, in addition to one portion from a small glass of pure fruit juice.
  • Eat regular meals and snacks. Try to keep your energy levels consistent by eating regular meals and snacks instead of infrequent larger meals. For the elderly with a low appetite or who struggle with preparing meals it is good to have a good supply of the following; milky drinks, yoghurts, instant porridge and cereals, wholegrain crackers, breadsticks, bananas, nut butter, cooked eggs, tinned fish and nutritious soups available for quick meals or snacks.
Yoghurt and fruit make good snacks in a hurry
  • Iron – Give your brain some strength: Iron is responsible for making sure our brain gets an adequate supply of oxygen. Low intakes of iron cause anaemia which results in feeling tired and weak. Try to ensure you are getting enough iron in your diet by eating foods like red meat, poultry, fish, beans, pulses and fortified cereals. Avoid drinking tea and coffee during or too close to meals as this reduces iron absorption. Alternatively eating Vitamin C rich foods for example oranges, peppers, spinach, kiwi, broccoli or pure fruit juice with a meal will help the iron to be absorbed more easily in the body.
  • Mood Food – The right nutrients: A balanced and varied diet is always the healthiest option and there are certain nutrients that may help with mood and energy levels. B-Vitamins are needed for energy, however 20 % of people over 60 are not getting enough vitamin B12 (2) and low levels of folate which can be related to depression in elderly people (3). Foods which contain B Vitamins include fortified foods such as cereals and plant milks, meat, liver, eggs, salmon, leafy green vegetables, beans, lentils and chickpeas. Low levels of selenium can sometimes be related to depression and low mood (3) and therefore consuming Brazil Nuts, seeds, wholemeal bread, fish and meat could help.
Hummus is made from chickpeas which contain B vitamins
  • Oily fish: This contains omega 3 and other nutrients that have links to preventing and treating depression and improving memory function. It is recommended that adults have one portion a week which is equivalent to a can of sardines or a serving of salmon. (4) Other sources include mackerel, pilchards, kippers and trout. Non-fish sources of omega 3 include walnuts, seeds, seed and nut oils, leafy vegetables and soya products.
  • Hydration – The elderly are often more susceptible to dehydration which can cause lower memory problems, lack of concentration and tiredness. Aim for around six to eight glasses of fluid per day, and this can include hot drinks, fruit juice, cordials, water, and tea and coffee up to the recommended daily amount.

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