IN general, older people in this country are reasonably nourished.

Apart form odd instances, malnutrition is not common among fit older individuals. Curiously the most prevalent nutritional disorder happens to be obesity and over weight. Selected deficiencies of certain vitamins, calcium etc are, however, not uncommon among the more frail housebound, where the question of routine replacements and nutritional supplements have been considered.

Here I am not going to discuss such well known general issues and I will be more specific on preventive measures.

Osteoporosis or brittle bone disease is common in older women. It would, therefore, be a good idea to take a diet rich in bone minerals.

Topping the list is regular measured intake of dietary Calcium and Vitamin D from milk, cheese, dairy products etc. A word of caution though – whilst taking milk for calcium one should also avoid its fat content by consuming semi or even fully skimmed milk. The daily Calcium requirement for older people of around 1200 mg a day can be obtained from two glasses of skimmed milk PLUS additional calcium supplements.

Vitamin D is available from oily fish eg sardines and mackerel where fish oil can also be useful to keep heart attacks and strokes at bay. Popular magazines are full of dietary advice outlining the sources of calcium and vitamin D. It should be remembered also that too much alcohol, smoking, salt , red meat, caffeine and fizzy drinks can hinder the effects of calcium and enhance osteoporosis. For the maintenance of good bone health, the body needs an alkaline environment which can be created by fresh fruits and vegetables. The World Health Organisation recommends five 80 gm portions of fresh fruits and vegetables each day as part of a healthy diet.

Anaemia is also fairly common in old age and regular dietary intake of iron, folic acid does help. Liver, red meat in moderation, watercress, raisins, spinach, blackcurrants, dry dates, peas and turnips contain iron. Leafy vegetables are a good source of folic acid. About one mg of iron is needed daily to maintain good health and to avoid iron deficiency anaemia.

Inadequacy of Vitamin C, especially in winter months, has been highlighted for a long time, housebound elderly are strongly advised to take citrus fruits eg oranges, lemons, broccoli, cauliflower and parsley — all rich suppliers of ascorbic acid or vitamin C – which also helps in the absorption of iron and helps fight anaemia.

In addition, the nutritional benefits of certain other food stuff should be remembered. Antioxidants are necessary to nullify the effects of ‘free-radicals’’- the causal agent of many nasty diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Tomatoes, red grapes (hence red wine), blueberry, spinach, salmon, tea – all have strong anti-oxidant properties and are beneficial. Certain foods, garlic, nuts and spinach have been claimed to possess anti-ageing properties and some American researchers have found their efficacy in Alzheimers Disease. So please choose your food carefully but eat in moderation to avoid obesity and enjoy your life.

Whatever the age, food should be enjoyed. It is not to be taken as medication in measured amounts all the time, odd variations with perhaps a bit of dietary indulgence doesn’t cause any harm. What is needed is to maintain a good balanced nourishing diet.