Garzón: "Elderly and dependent people have the right to healthy, sustainable and dignified food"

News - 2023.5.22

As explained by the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Alberto Garzón, the aim of these recommendations is to guide the institutions and professionals in these centres to develop diets and menus that meet the nutritional needs of their residents and, at the same time, promote a diet that protects individual health and respects the environment. This is without prejudice to the existence of exceptions for people with pathologies that require specific treatment.

"Our seniors must have the full support of the government in accessing a healthy, sustainable and dignified diet. In addition, we must guarantee strict compliance with food safety standards and avoid embarrassing images such as those we have seen in the complaints from workers, users and relatives", argued Garzón.

According to the latest report from the Scientific Committee of the AESAN, the general daily recommendations for people over 65 years of age are as follows:

Three to six servings of cereals: whenever possible, these should be whole grains. Millet, sorghum, spelt wheat and buckwheat are proposed because, in addition to having optimal nutritional qualities, they help diversify crops and improve the resilience of food systems.

  • At least three servings per day of vegetables: preferably seasonal and fresh, unpackaged. As for cooking methods, they are best eaten dressed with olive oil and vinaigrette, cooked or steamed and seasoned with spices.
  • Three to four servings of milk and dairy products: particularly suitable for older people suffering from nutritional deficiencies where nutrient dense foods are required, although products high in fat, salt and added sugars should be avoided.
  • Two to three servings of fruit: the general recommendation is to consume fruit whole and fresh, avoiding juices (although they can be useful for people with swallowing problems) and dried fruit or fruit in syrup. They are ideal as a snack, as they provide fibre and vitamin C.

Other foods recommended on a daily basis for older people are olive oil (as the main dressing for culinary preparations) and water, which should be the main drink to maintain adequate fluid intake. Drinks that can help maintain hydration include coffee, tea, herbal teas and sugar-free carbonated waters.

A healthy and sustainable diet should be complemented, according to the scientific evidence compiled by AESAN, with a weekly intake of:

  • At least four servings of pulses: whether fresh, dried or canned, these are affordable plant-based protein foods with a low environmental impact. For those who want to reduce their consumption of animal protein or carbohydrates, these can be consumed on a daily basis.
  • Between four or five eggs: given their high nutritional value, their consumption is highly recommended in situations where nutrient dense foods are required, such as in cases of anorexia associated with ageing. It is recommended, however, not to combine them with foods rich in saturated fats and refined flours.
  • Three or more servings of nuts and dried fruit: this could be up to one serving per day as long as their intake is balanced so as not to promote weight gain, as they are calorie-dense foods. Products without salt, fat or added sugars should be chosen.
  • At least three servings of fish and/or seafood: if possible, choose oily fish and species with a lower environmental impact, as well as fish without bones or with bones that are easy to locate and remove to avoid choking.
  • A maximum of three servings of meat and meat products: the recommendation is to opt for poultry and rabbit, minimising processed meats.

In addition, the AESAN recommends a moderate weekly consumption of potatoes and other tubers, which are good to alternate with whole grain cereals and pulses for balanced sources of carbohydrates.

In short, according to the Minister for Consumer Affairs, the aim is to guarantee that the food that residents receive is based "on the consensus of professionals and not, as we have unfortunately seen and relatives have sometimes denounced, on criteria that are not compatible either with human dignity or with what the scientific evidence says".

In this regard, and after insisting that "eating well is not a privilege, but a right", Garzón said that he will provide the Autonomous Communities with a copy of the guide drawn up by AESAN so that, in the exercise of their functions, "they can update and incorporate the recommendations and requirements of the food on offer in residential homes for the elderly and day centres".

"The diets of elderly and dependent people, who are extremely vulnerable, cannot depend on a nursing home's decision to minimise its costs. We don't want any tricks or gimmicks. We hope that the Autonomous Communities will internalise this and learn from the mistakes that have come to light and which relatives have quite rightly complained about," he stressed.

Practical tips for healthy eating in old age

The AESAN experts recommend that older people consume about five or six meals a day, with three main meals and two or three snacks. The distribution of energy intake could be, depending on individual needs, 25-30% at breakfast, 5% mid-morning, 35-40% at lunch, 5-10% as an afternoon snack, 20-25% at dinner and about 5% as an evening snack.

In addition, it is necessary to continuously monitor and follow up the nutritional status of elderly users of residential homes and day centres in order to identify any possible deficiencies or excesses in diets, and assess the effects of each individual's pharmacological treatments.

Another basic tip for a varied, balanced and sustainable diet is planning. In this sense, having multidisciplinary teams that assess diets, adapt them to the seasons, determine whether food supplements are necessary, and take into account both the needs and preferences of individuals and their families is essential for the overall well-being of these people.

In terms of cooking techniques, the AESAN experts recommend baking, roasting or grilling as the preferred cooking techniques, followed by traditional stews and the use of the classic "sofrito" based on vegetables and olive oil as the basis for culinary preparations. In addition, when seasoning meals the use of salt should be limited and herbs and spices prioritised to promote palatability.

The aim is therefore to cook according to the principles of the Mediterranean diet and, as far as possible, to offer dishes that are in keeping with the culinary traditions, customs and eating habits and behaviour of the people who use the centres. In addition, the social support that comes from eating together improves appetite and intake, key aspects of residential and day care.

Non official translation