Eating and drinking well (nutrition)


Malnutrition is a serious condition that can happen when you do not get the right amount of nutrients from food and drink.

Older adults who are malnourished have a higher chance of falling (they are 64% more likely to fall). People who are overweight can also become malnourished because of an unbalanced diet.

Strength to stand comes from strong muscles and bones, and staying hydrated (drinking enough).

Having a healthy, well-balanced diet is more important as you get older. This is because you lose muscle mass (the amount of muscle in your body), which affects your strength.

Eating healthy food with enough energy and protein can help to improve your bone and muscle strength. Good nutrition reduces the risk of muscle loss and frailty which helps to prevent falls.

You can read more about malnutrition on the NHS website.

Change in appetite

Your appetite and how much you want to eat often changes as you get older. Some food and drinks can seem less enjoyable than they used to be. You might also feel full sooner when eating, or feel like you need to drink less fluids.

Weight loss, while a normal part of ageing, can also lead to loss of muscle and strength, which could increase your chance of falling.

If you have a poor appetite, you might need to make changes to your diet. These changes could include eating small meals more than 3 times a day.

Speak to a healthcare professional and ask for a referral to a dietitian if:

  • you struggle to eat enough to keep a healthy weight
  • you are losing weight
  • you find it difficult to do everyday activities such as shopping or socialising

Smoking and appetite

Stopping smoking can improve your general health and fitness. It also improves your taste and sense of smell. This makes food more pleasurable and improves your appetite.

You might find that you gain weight slightly if you stop smoking. This is normal and there is no need to be concerned.

If you would like help to give up smoking, please speak to your nurse or call the Guy’s and St Thomas’ stop smoking service on 020 7188 0995.

You can also call the National Smokefree Helpline on 0300 123 1044 (England only, Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm or Saturday and Sunday, 11am to 4pm).

Having a balanced diet

Your nutritional needs change as you get older, especially how much protein you need to eat.

Balanced meals are made up of:

You also need:

The NHS has more information about eating a healthy, balanced diet.

You can also ask your medical team if you can speak to a dietitian (an expert on food and nutrition).


Protein has an important role in your body. It helps to:

  • keep your muscles strong
  • repair any injuries, such as wounds and broken bones
  • support your immune system to fight infections

Try to include foods that are high in protein in 2 or 3 meals each day. These foods include:

  • lean meat, poultry or fish
  • eggs
  • dairy products (cheese, yoghurt, milk)
  • beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas
  • nuts
  • soya products (tofu, edamame beans, tempeh, soya yoghurts)

For balanced nutrition and to help make your body stronger, aim to have protein with every main meal and a high protein snack after exercising.


Carbohydrate foods are an important source of energy (fuel) for the body. They also contain fibre and some vitamins and minerals. Healthy carbohydrate foods that you should have in your main meals include:

  • potatoes
  • wholegrain breads
  • cereals that are not processed (oats and bran)
  • brown pasta
  • wholegrain crackers
  • basmati rice

Sugary foods are also high in carbohydrates but are less healthy. They include cakes, biscuits, sweets, fizzy drinks. You should generally only have these occasionally as a treat. However, you might be asked to have more of this food in your diet if you need to gain or maintain weight.

Vegetables and fruit

You should have plenty of fruit and vegetables for essential vitamins and minerals to boost your immune system. Aim for 5 portions each day. Your fruit and vegetables can be fresh, frozen or canned.


Calcium is important for strong bones and healthy muscles. Try to have 3 servings of foods that are rich in calcium each day. They can include:

  • dairy foods (cheese, milk, yogurt, fromage frais)
  • seafood (such as canned salmon or sardines)
  • leafy green vegetables
  • beans (such as kidney beans)
  • chickpeas (such as hummus)
  • nuts and seeds
  • fruit (such as oranges or dried figs)

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for your muscles, bones and general health.

You get most of your vitamin D from sunshine. Even a healthy, well-balanced diet might not have enough vitamin D in it.

Adults living in the UK should take a supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day in the winter months. A microgram is 1,000 times smaller than a milligram (mg).

You can help your body to get more vitamin D. Try to eat foods that are rich in vitamin D, such as:

  • oily fish
  • cod liver oil (this is not suitable if you are pregnant)

You might need more vitamin D (a higher dose) than the general population if you:

  • are 65 years old or above
  • have brown or black skin (for example, if you have an African, African-Caribbean or south Asian background)
  • cover most of your skin when you go outside
  • spend little time outside during the summer (for example, if you are housebound or a shop, office or night shift worker)

If you have a higher chance of not getting enough vitamin D, you need to take a supplement every day throughout the year.

Staying hydrated

Not drinking enough fluids can lead to dehydration. This can lower your blood pressure, cause weakness and make you feel dizzy. If you get these symptoms, you are more likely to have a fall.

Staying hydrated is important at any age.

Here are some tips to stay hydrated:

  • Drink enough fluids. Try to have at least 6 to 8 glasses of clear fluids a day.
  • Make sure that tea, coffee and other drinks that have caffeine are not your main drinks. Try to have less of these drinks.
  • Reduce how much alcohol you drink.

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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