Malnutrition is a lot more common than you might think. It occurs when a person’s diet doesn’t contain the right amount of nutrients. It can refer to undernutrition – when a person’s diet doesn’t contain enough nutrients to meet their needs, and overnutrition – when it contains too many.
Malnutrition is often unrecognised but it’s important to talk about it as something can be done to help. Ensuring someone eats and drinks enough can make a real difference to their health and quality of life.
If you are eating less and/or losing weight you could start by making small changes to your diet and see if this helps.
Sarcopenia is a condition of muscle wasting and loss of strength with, or without, a reduction in overall body weight. This is most likely to happen as we get older, especially if our dietary intake and physical activity reduce. It is associated with poorer quality of life, balance and gait.
This is a relatively new area of research and emerging evidence would suggest that those at risk of sarcopenia should increase their protein intake, spread evenly throughout the day, with some at each meal. We should also aim to maintain exercises into older age, especially those known to increase muscle size and strength. This may help to prevent muscles wasting – which doesn’t have to be a normal part of ageing.
You may be involved in caring for an older relative or friend who needs a lot of assistance. Here’s some handy tips to help you out:
- Try going shopping with, or doing shopping for them. Online shopping may be a good solution for some people.
- Make sure they have plenty of store cupboard items that they are able to open easily such as UHT milk and milk powder, pasta and rice, frozen foods and ready-made individual milk puddings like custard and rice pudding. If they are able to open tinned foods easily, they can be useful too.
- Make a batch of food such as stew, soup or pasta, and freeze them in individual portions so they can simply be heated up and eaten.
- Try baking as a gift. Take a cake, scones, muffins or biscuits as a present. Home baking is often much appreciated.
- Make sure their kitchen equipment is safe, accessible and easy to use. For example, a microwave might be beneficial and a freezer compartment in a fridge can be used to store ready-made soups or desserts for future use.
It’s important to consider a food first approach to help those who are at risk of malnutrition or sarcopenia, and dairy is very useful for adding energy, protein and other nutrients to everyday meals and snacks. Supplements that are often used to treat these conditions can be expensive, especially if they are being used in the long-term.
Dairy foods are nutritious and provide quality protein, calcium, iodine and phosphorus. They are palatable and affordable and easily accessible – and can be eaten at any time of the day!
Whole milk and full-fat cheese and yogurt can provide calories and fat soluble vitamins and minerals, for sarcopenia dairy provides quality protein – including the amino acid, leucine. Skimmed milk powder can be used to add extra protein to milky drinks, cheesy sauces or desserts.
- including milk, cheese and yogurt in your diet every day but remember that low-fat and diet options are not for you at this time
- having whole milk – it has a blue top or blue label on plastic bottles and cartons or a silver top on glass bottles
- Fruit puddings like crumbles, pies or trifles provide calories and contain fruit too. They can be eaten with cream, fromage frais, custard or yogurt (Greek or whole milk). Milk puddings like semolina, tapioca or individual pots of rice pudding can also be enjoyed at any time of the day or night
- Try a hot chocolate or malted hot drinks made with whole milk at bedtime, and if you can have a snack with this even better
- If you drink coffee in the day why don’t you try making a hot milky coffee using all milk rather than water or try a cold nourishing milky drink like a milkshake or smoothie.
To fortify your milk, add 2-4 tablespoons of milk powder, to 1 pint of whole milk and mix well. Use fortified milk in tea or coffee and hot milky drinks, on cereals, to make porridge, in sauces, to make soups or to make up milkshakes. Once made up you can keep it in the fridge to use during the rest of the day.
Tip: Mix the powder with a little milk first to make a smooth paste and then add more milk, mixing all the time until there are no lumps
Try not to skip meals! Make sure you have some breakfast every morning. You might like
- cereal or porridge with whole milk, fruit and yogurt
- muffins or bagels with soft or melted cheese
- for a softer option, try cheesy scrambled eggs or omelettes
If you have a small appetite eat little and often (every 2 -3 hours) rather than trying to eat three big meals a day.
- choosing smaller meals and have snacks or nourishing drinks in between. Aim for 3 small meals plus 3 snacks or nourishing drinks per day; breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon, evening and bedtime
- having small meals and snacks like cheese and baked beans, sardines or peanut butter on toast, a bowl of creamy soup with a roll and butter, cheese and crackers, a small bowl of cereal with milk, tuna and cucumber or cheese and tomato sandwiches
- melting grated cheese into soup or sauces, put it on mashed potato or in omelettes or on your vegetables
If you have a poor sense of taste, use stronger flavours like mature cheddar or add herbs and spices to flavour cheese dishes – look at our recipe page for zingy cheese on toast
Last reviewed: 03/2019
Next review due: 03/2021