Jan 31, 2024

Milking it: The food group a dietitian says is a must in the diets of older adults

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Research shows us that getting 3.5 serves of dairy each day can build stronger muscles, which supports the physical wellbeing of older adults. [Source: Supplied]

Dairy foods are packed with important bone and muscle friendly nutrients including calcium, high-quality protein, zinc and phosphorous. Once we hit the age of 50, the amount of dairy foods we should be eating everyday jumps from 2.5 serves to 3.5-4 serves. The unique mix of nutrients in dairy can help preserve bone and muscles as we age, but many older adults are missing out – surprisingly, 99% of older Australians aren’t getting their recommended serves of milk, cheese and yoghurt each day.

To help meet dairy goals, we spoke to Louise Murray, an Accredited Practising Dietitian who shared why it’s so important to focus on dairy as we age, including some handy tips for getting more dairy each day. 

Dairy foods are key for healthy ageing 

“Research shows us that older adults who add extra serves of dairy to their diet can drastically reduce their risk of falls and fractures – by as much as 11% and 33%, respectively,” said Louise. 

While this research was conducted in aged care residents, many who were in their 80’s and 90’s, Louise says it’s never too late to start thinking about our bones and muscles. 

A serve of dairy equals a cup of milk, ¾ cup of yoghurt or 2 slices of cheese. 

While calcium is a key nutrient we often think about when we make our morning smoothie, many of us forget about another important nutrient in dairy – protein. Louise explains that as we age, protein is the most significant nutrient that older people have higher requirements for. “More protein is needed to help reduce the loss of lean muscle mass and function. Protein also helps keep us full for longer periods”. 

The great news is that getting our protein requirements is easy – dairy foods like milk, cheese and yoghurt contains high-quality protein, meaning it contains all the essential protein building blocks called amino acids. This means that it is an important protein source to help prevent loss of muscle mass and function, which can help older adults maintain their independence and prevent falls. When loss of muscle mass occurs in older adults, it’s more difficult to build lean muscle due to the changes in our bodies as we age. It requires a combination of protein intake spread across the day along with resistance exercises.

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Louise Murray, Accredited Practising Dietitian. [Source: Supplied]

Louise’s top three tips for getting more dairy in every day 

  1. Find ways to add in more dairy serves into existing recipes or menu items. Add a cauliflower and broccoli gratin to Sunday’s roast beef or add ricotta cheese to a pasta dish. It can be as simple as adding milk and milk powder into porridge at breakfast. 
  2. Try something new! So often we stick with a limited number of meal options because it’s easy. Increasing your intake of dairy may need you to look at your usual eating patterns and finding ways to incorporate a new food or recipe. If you live with or cook for other people, it’s a great way to have a conversation about the dairy foods they enjoy most and choosing one new recipe a week to start with. Most of all, enjoy the process!
  3. Aim for one serve of dairy at each mealtime. This will spread dairy serves across the day. It is also an easy checklist to see where you can add in dairy to your existing eating pattern. Try writing down what you usually eat across the day, and add up your serves of dairy – cheese, yoghurt and milk.

“Milk, cheese and yoghurt can be incorporated into a variety of recipes, like my halloumi and sweet corn fritters”.

Louise Murray is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, specialising in nutrition for older adults. She helps chefs and managers of aged care facilities to provide high quality, nutritious and delicious food – all older adults deserve to have nutritious food in an environment that supports this. Louise is a real foodie who loves creating recipes and information for older adults to enjoy their food regardless of their medical conditions, to maintain their independence and enjoyment of meals for quality of life. 

Dairy Australia is the national services body for the Australian dairy industry. 

For more information please visit Dairy Australia

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