Build Yourself Up
Introduction to malnutrition and dehydration
This page includes general information on good nutrition for adults. It has been broken down into useful sections to enable you to download part or the entire document depending on what you need.
If you are following any special diet for medical reasons please seek advice and guidance from your GP and/or dietitian as not all the information may be appropriate for you.
Malnutrition and dehydration are not symptoms of ageing so don’t let the symptoms be dismissed simply as 'old age'. Malnutrition is a deficiency of nutrients. Being malnourished and/or dehydrated can make you ill or being ill can make you malnourished or dehydrated.
Malnutrition affects three million people living in the community, a third of who receive care or health services. It is generally thought that people will get thinner, frailer and more confused as they become older. Everyone knows a story of someone who lost a lot of weight or who became painfully thin and just thought it was part of the ageing process. Adults may even celebrate when they lose weight when they hadn’t planned to and are unaware as to how quickly they may become at risk of malnutrition.
The following factors have been identified as increasing the risks of malnutrition:
- difficulty reaching shops
- lack of cooking skills
- ill health
- following surgery.
Signs of malnutrition
- unplanned weight loss
- loss of appetite
- loose fitting clothes/jewellery
- ill fitting dentures
- water retention
- sores around the lips
- wasting away of muscles
- hair loss
- change of colour/texture to skin.
Whatever your weight, if you have recently lost weight in an unplanned way, then you may be at risk of malnutrition.
Dehydration can be easily defined as not drinking enough, leading to insufficient water in the body for normal functioning. An adult should drink approximately 6 - 8 glasses of fluid per day.
Sometimes, the amount of fluids drunk under normal circumstances may have been adequate but because of various conditions, the fluid becomes insufficient. Conditions such as, excessive exercise without drinking extra fluid, high temperatures during hot weather, or when someone suffers a bout of diarrhoea and vomiting. People who fast for religious reasons may also be at risk of dehydration.
Signs of dehydration
The obvious sign is thirst. If a person becomes thirsty, they are already at risk of dehydration.
Other signs to look out for include:
- dark coloured and strong smelling urine (urine should be straw coloured in appearance)
- low urine output
- dry mouth
- dry skin
- dry or chapped lips
- loss of appetite
- light-headedness or headaches.
To make sure you keep hydrated, aim for two litres or 6-8 cups of fluid each day, for example milk, milkshakes, squash, tea, coffee and water.
What if I have diabetes?
Food and medication
If you are showing signs of malnutrition, the priority is to meet your nutritional needs. You do not need to follow normal healthy eating advice during this time. The advice in this information leaflet is appropriate to follow. Foods high in fat and sugar are a good source of calories, therefore increasing your intake of these foods will help to meet your raised needs.
It is common for people’s blood glucose levels to rise when having more to eat and drink, but this can be managed by arranging a review of your diabetes medication. Please contact your GP practice or diabetes specialist nurse if this is necessary. It is not advisable to cut back on your food and drink to control your blood glucose level.
Illness and surgery
Periods of illness and surgery can also cause blood glucose levels to rise. During these periods it is important that your blood glucose levels are monitored regularly. You may require a review of your diabetes medication.
Avoid sugary liquids, such as fizzy drinks and squashes, as these can cause a sudden rise in your blood glucose level. Instead have ‘no added sugar’ squashes or ‘diet’ drinks. Milky drinks, fruit juices, smoothies and the options from the ‘nourishing drinks’ section are suitable alternatives and contain extra calories to help build you up.
Build Yourself Up
If you are following any special diet for medical reasons please seek advice and guidance from your GP and/or dietitian as not all the information may be appropriate for you. If you have diabetes please see Part 2.
If you are showing some signs of malnutrition here are some practical tips on how to build yourself up. This advice will help you to get your energy back and keep your strength up. If you have lost weight, these tips may help you to put a few pounds back on, or prevent further weight loss.
When should I eat?
Try to eat little and often. This is particularly important if you have a reduced appetite and can only manage small meals. Aim to eat something, or, have a milky drink six times a day: i.e. breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon, evening meal and bedtime. Everyone’s appetite varies between good and bad days and from hour to hour. Make the most of the good times by eating well and treating yourself to your favourite foods.
Are there any foods I should avoid?
There are no particular foods you should avoid, or foods you must eat. Everyone is different; if you find that certain foods upset you, avoid them. Try to have as wide a variety of foods as possible. When people are well, they are usually told to avoid foods high in fat and sugar. This is not relevant to you. In fact, these are the foods that will help you to put some pounds back on. Avoid low fat, low sugar versions of foods.
Some people find that fizzy drinks fill them up and then they lose their appetite. If you find this to be true, try to avoid them before or during meals.
Smoking tends to reduce your appetite. If you are off your food, cutting back on smoking will help your appetite and health in general. For further information contact Live Well Dorset Freephone 0800 840 1628 or 01305 233105.
What about fats?
If you have concerns regarding the health of your heart you may wish to choose fats that are high in ‘mono’ and ‘poly’ unsaturated fats such as those made from olive, groundnut, sunflower, corn, soya and rapeseed (vegetable oil) as these are better for your heart and cardiovascular system.
What about vitamin and mineral supplements?
People aged 65 and over and people who are not exposed too much sun should take a daily supplement containing 10 µg (micrograms) of Vitamin D.
If you are eating a wide range of different foods you shouldn’t need any other vitamin or mineral supplement. However if your appetite and intake have been decreased for some time you may benefit from the addition of a multi vitamin and/or mineral supplement. If you are concerned about this you should discuss this with your GP and/or dietitian
How can I increase calories and protein in the food I eat?
Milk - Fortify milk by adding skimmed milk powder to it.
Mix 2oz/50g (4 tablespoons) of skimmed milk powder with a little milk to form a paste, then stir in a pint of cold full cream milk.
Keep the fortified milk to make drinks, soups, custard, jellies, blancmanges and puddings.
Breakfast cereals - Use fortified milk and sugar, honey or syrup freely (syrup and honey are particularly tasty in porridge). Many people enjoy breakfast cereals as snacks between meals and at bedtime.
Casseroles - Fortify by adding minced meat, lentils, beans or noodles Cream is an easy way to add extra calories.
Soups - Fortify by adding lentils, beans or noodles. Cream is an easy way to add extra calories. Always make up packet and condensed soups with fortified milk.
Meat, poultry, fish and pulses - These foods are very nutritious, as they are a good source of protein. Serve with sauces (made with fortified milk), such as cheese, white or parsley for added protein and calories.
Try adding half a teaspoon of Marmite or Bovril for extra vitamins.
Sauces are particularly helpful if you have a dry or sore mouth.
Potatoes - can be fortified by adding butter/margarine and fortified milk, or by sprinkling grated cheese on top.
Vegetables - Melt butter/margarine on top of hot vegetables, or garnish with grated cheese.
Sauces - Sauces such as cheese or white sauce can be added to vegetables, meat or fish
Mayonnaise and salad cream will also add extra calories.
Desserts - Try to have a dessert after meals. If necessary wait a while between the main course and dessert. Add ice cream, cream or evaporated milk to puddings. Use sugar, honey or syrup liberally. Make instant desserts, custard and milk puddings with fortified milk. Try jelly made with evaporated milk. Thick and creamy yoghurts or fromage frais are also good. Cream cakes are excellent desserts for extra calories.
Drinks - Use fortified milk when making coffee and milky drinks. Milk shakes are a useful source of calories and protein and make very good snacks between meals.
Fresh fruit juice/smoothies are a valuable source of vitamins, particularly if you are not eating much fruit.
Nibbles - Keep snacks like nuts, fruit, crisps, biscuits, sweets and chocolate handy to nibble between meals.
What can I do when I have lost my appetite or feel too tired to cook?
Many meals can be bought ready-made and just need to be reheated. If you need information on meals on wheel on meals or luncheon clubs, visit My Life My Care.
This is a time to make use of take away meals and quick convenience foods. The following suggestions may give you some ideas for snacks and easy meals:
On toast - Cheese, baked beans, scrambled eggs, sardines, pilchards, mackerel, pâté, spaghetti, ravioli or tinned mushrooms.
If you have a toasted sandwich maker, use it to make hot snacks, both savoury (e.g. ham and tomato, cheese and pickle or tuna and mayonnaise) and sweet (e.g. banana and honey, apple and sultana).
Filled omelette - Ham, cheese or mushroom.
Filled sandwiches and rolls - Try fillings such as cheese, cheese
spreads, tuna or other fish, egg mayonnaise, pâté, or cold meat
(e.g. corned beef, ham or beef), bacon, peanut butter, hummus, jam, marmalade or banana.
Baked potatoes - Butter, cheese, baked beans, tuna or coleslaw.
Instant frozen and microwave meals - (avoid the slimming variety of meals). A huge variety of meals are now available in single portions e.g. roast dinners, pasta dishes, curries, pies and paella.
Soups - These can make quick nutritious meals whether they are tinned, from packets or homemade. Avoid the slimming varieties and clear soups. Grated cheese, cream and milk powder can be added for extra calories.
Buffet foods - Keep a supply of foods you like to eat at a buffet e.g. chicken leg, cold sausages, sausage rolls, pasties, pies, quiches, flans, scotch eggs and dips.
Alcohol - If you have lost your appetite, a small glass of sherry or brandy before a meal may stimulate your appetite. Check first with your doctor to make sure it will not interfere with your medication.
Nourishing drinks – Part 6 Nourishing Drinks gives you examples of drinks you can buy e.g. Complan and Nurishment and the like and examples of ones that are simple to make.
Sample Meal Plan
If you are following any special diet for medical reasons please seek advice and guidance from your GP and/or dietitian as not all the information may be appropriate for you. If you have diabetes see Part 2.
Porridge or cereal with *fortified milk
Cooked breakfast e.g. bacon, sausage and tomato
Bread/toast with butter/full fat margarine and marmalade
Snack and/or milky drink e.g. milky coffee with a piece of cake
Glass of milk and a sandwich
Nurishment or Complan, crisps or biscuits
Large portion of meat, fish, egg, cheese
Vegetables, fortified potato
Dessert (see hints) or cheese and biscuits
Snack with a drink e.g. tea with a scone or cake
Fruit juice with toast or cake
Nurishment or Complan
As lunch, or sandwiches with fillings such as meat, fish, cheese, egg Dessert or yoghurt
Hot Chocolate or Horlicks, made with *fortified milk, with a biscuit, cake, toast or breakfast cereal with *fortified milk
Try to have at least one hot or cold drink with every meal. Please see Nourishing drinks page 12-14.
See Part 3 on how to fortify/increase calories and protein.
When you are ill and unable to eat normally, it is important to maintain a good nutritional intake. Loss of appetite is a well-known problem associated with many illnesses yet it is still essential to ensure that your intake of nutrients is sufficient to help you recover.
You can do this by including nourishing drinks in your daily diet. They provide added protein, calories, vitamins and minerals.
Drinks You Can Buy
The following drinks may be useful to supplement your diet, when you have a poor appetite.
Complan Milk Shakes Various flavours, a nutritionally balanced powdered supplement made up with milk - ideally full cream.
Complan Soups Various flavours, nutritionally balanced powder made up with hot water or ideally full cream milk.
Complan Neutral A powdered nutritional supplement, which can be
added to sweet or savoury drinks/cereals/puddings or casseroles.
Nurishment Original Various flavours – 400ml tin ready made up
Nurishment Extra Various flavours – 310ml ready made up bottle
Meritene Energis Soup Chicken and Vegetable make with full cream milk
Also Glucose/Glucose C can be added to drinks/food to increase the calorie content.
Complan is available from some large supermarkets and chemists/pharmacists
Nourishing Drink Recipes You May Like
For all recipes: liquidise all ingredients together. Use full fat or fortified milk.
Milk: Is a nourishing drink and can be fortified with skimmed milk powder:-
Mix 2oz or 50g (4 tablespoons) of skimmed milk powder with a little milk to form a paste. Then stir in 1 pint of cold milk. Keep this in the fridge and it can be used for making drinks, sauces, soups, puddings and on breakfast cereals.
Warm, full cream milky drinks try: - Coffee, Hot Chocolate, Cocoa, Malted Drinks add cream, condensed milk or evaporated milk if you prefer.
200ml (1/3 pint) fortified milk
2 Tablespoons (1oz/30g) drinking chocolate Double cream
Gently heat the milk and mix in the hot chocolate, top with double cream.
Milkshake variations: Try other flavours, e.g. mint or orange hot chocolate. Try Crusha syrup, Nesquik powder, ready made milkshakes such as Yazoo or supermarkets own brands. Add ice cream for extra calories.
½ sachet Vanilla Complan
¼ pint (150mls) milk
3oz (75g) tinned fruit in syrup e.g. apricots, peaches, fruit salad
½ sachet Vanilla Complan
¼ pint (150mls) milk
½ a ripe banana
1 scoop ice cream
200ml (1/3 pint) fortified milk
1 small banana
1 scoop vanilla ice cream
Blend together, top with grated chocolate/drinking chocolate or cinnamon.
5oz (125g) apricots
2 (25g) teaspoons honey
1oz sugar or glucose
⅓ pint (200mls) milk
Cinnamon to taste
1 carton full fat strawberry yoghurt
⅓ pint (200mls) milk
1 scoop ice cream
4 teaspoons glucose or sugar
Strawberry Yoghurt Cooler
150ml (1/4 pint) fortified milk
75ml (1/2) pot full cream yoghurt 3oz (75g) tinned/fresh strawberries Liquidise all ingredients together. Add sugar/honey to taste.
½ sachet chocolate Complan
¼ pint (150mls) milk
Few drops of peppermint essence
1 scoop ice cream
150ml Tomato juice
A few drops of Worcester sauce
75ml (1/2 pot) natural yoghurt
Mix all the ingredients and serve over ice
125ml (1/5 pint) pineapple juice
125ml (1/5 pint) coconut milk
1 teaspoon icing sugar or brown sugar
2oz (50g) of pineapple (fresh or tinned)
Mix the ingredients with a whisk/blender and serve over ice.
What Foods Should I keep in Stock?
If you are following any special diet for medical reasons please seek advice and guidance from your GP and/or dietitian as not all the information may be appropriate for you. For Diabetes please see Part 2.
Always ensure you buy these items
- Full fat milk
- Full fat cheese
- Cream/condensed/evaporated milk
- Dried skimmed milk powder
- Complan or equivalent.
The list of foods you keep in your kitchen will depend on your own likes and dislikes. Here are some ideas for extra foods to put on your shopping list:
In the cupboard
Long life milk (UHT), skimmed milk powder, Complan, Nurishment or alike
Variety of breakfast cereals/porridge
Jams, marmalade, peanut butter, lemon curd, honey
Tinned baked beans, macaroni cheese, spaghetti
Tinned meats, fish and stews e.g. corned beef, tuna, sardines and pilchards
Packet and tinned soups and sauces
Tinned vegetables and potatoes
Tinned fruit in syrup or fruit juice
Cartons of milk pudding, custard, mousse and jelly
Tinned cream, evaporated and condensed milk
Snacks, e.g. nuts, crisps, biscuits, sweets, chocolates, dried fruit e.g. dates, raisins, apricots
Pastries and sweet and savoury biscuits
Cakes e.g. fruit cake, scones, teacakes, and croissants
Horlicks, Ovaltine and Drinking Chocolate
In the fridge:
Full fat milk
Full fat yoghurt, fromage frais, crème caramel and desserts, especially the thick and creamy varieties
Cheese, including cream and hard varieties
Flans, quiches, pasties and pies
Cooked meats e.g. ham or chicken Fruit juice
In the freezer:
Instant meals, e.g. cottage pie, roast dinner, fish pie, pies and pizza, fish fingers, sausages and burgers, frozen vegetables, boil-in-the-bag meals, e.g. cod in sauce, full fat ice cream.
It is important that once food has been defrosted it is not re-frozen as this could lead to food poisoning.
'Best before' dates appear on a wide range of frozen, dried, tinned and other foods.
The 'best before' dates are more about quality than safety, except for eggs. So when the date runs out it doesn't mean that the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture.
However, you shouldn't eat eggs after the 'best before' date. This is because eggs can contain salmonella bacteria, which could start to multiply after this date.
Remember, the 'best before' date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the label, such as 'store in a cool dry place' or 'keep in the fridge once opened'. So, if you want to enjoy the food at its best, use it by its 'best before' date and make sure you follow any storage instructions.
You will see 'use by' dates on food that go off quickly, such as smoked fish, meat products and ready-prepared salads.
Don't use any food or drink after the end of the 'use by' date on the label, even if it looks and smells fine. This is because using it after this date could put your health at risk.
For the 'use by' date to be a valid guide, you must follow carefully storage instructions such as 'keep in a refrigerator'. If you don't follow these instructions, the food will spoil more quickly and you may risk food poisoning. 'Use by' does not always mean 'eat by'. If a food can be frozen its life can be extended beyond the 'use by' date.
But make sure you follow any instructions on the pack - such as 'freeze on day of purchase', 'cook from frozen' or 'defrost thoroughly before use and use within 24 hours'. It's also important you follow any instructions for cooking and preparation shown on the label. Once a food with a 'use by' date on it has been opened, you also need to follow any instructions such as 'eat within a week of opening'. But if the 'use by' date is tomorrow, then you must use the food by the end of tomorrow, even if you only opened it today.
Date marks such as 'sell by' or 'display until' often appear near or next to the 'best before' or 'use by' date. They are used by some shops to help with stock control and are instructions for shop staff, not shoppers.
The important dates for you to look for are the 'use by' and best before' dates.
Part 9: Assisting Someone to Eat
It is important that people get the help and encouragement they need to eat and drink.
Whether you are a member of staff, a relative, friend, carer or volunteer, there's a lot you can do to make mealtimes more pleasant and comfortable. Some people will be able to eat and drink on their own with little assistance, while others will need you to physically help them, if they can't manage by themselves. People can really benefit from the extra support and encouragement that you can give.
When sitting with someone at mealtimes, you may notice people having difficulties swallowing or frequent coughing after eating or drinking. If you do notice this then recommend the person approaches their GP who may refer them to a Speech and Language Therapist.
Prepare for Mealtimes
People are more likely to feel like eating if they are clean, comfortable and relaxed before each meal. You can help the person (or arrange for help for them) to:
• Go to the toilet
• Wash their hands
• Brush their teeth, freshen their mouth and fit dentures
• Put their hearing aid in and spectacles on
• Provide any special crockery/cutlery
Consider the Eating Environment
• Make sure the dining room is clean and welcoming
• Ask the person where they would like to eat and, if in a communal setting, who they would like to sit with
• If the person is in bed, clear the bedside table of any clutter to minimise distractions
• Make sure there are no unpleasant sights, smells or sounds that could put them off their food
• Consider switching off televisions to avoid distractions, though some might like to enjoy music
Preparing to Eat
It's important to support people to eat and drink by themselves, and to allow plenty of time for this. If needed, help the person to:
• Sit upright in a comfortable position
• Remove wrappers and lids
• Cut up food into manageable pieces
• Butter bread and peel fruit
• Arrange special cutlery
(like non-slip mats and two-handled cups) if better grip is needed
While you're helping someone to prepare for mealtimes, it's a good time to let them have choices about what they want to eat. Then discuss what's on the menu, and identify different foods on their plate (especially if it's pureed or minced). Ask if it’s what they wanted, to their tastes etc.
Assistance with Eating
Some people will need assistance to eat and drink. You should:
• Sit with them and make eye contact
• Give small amounts at a time and pause between each mouthful: don't have a loaded spoon waiting, as this can look as if you're saying "hurry up".
• Offer a drink at regular intervals
• Mix food with gravy or sauces (if their diet allows) to make it easier for them to chew and swallow
• Allow plenty of time. It can take about 20-30 minutes to help each person to eat comfortably
• If you notice any difficulties swallowing or frequent coughing after eating or drinking then recommend the person approaches their GP who may refer them to a Speech and Language Therapist.
If someone is feeling poorly or they are confused they may not have a good appetite. It's important that they try to eat something - even if it's just a little. You can help by:
• Being pleasant and friendly. A genuine smile and polite conversation could be all it takes to encourage them to eat
• Speaking positively about the food (e.g. "it smells really good")
• Serving less food on their plate at any one time and giving more if the person is still hungry
If the person has been identified as malnourished, encourage snacks between meals that are nutrient-rich like puddings, full cream yoghurts and biscuits with cheese.
Where necessary, provide assistance discreetly. Use serviettes, not bibs, to protect clothing. Offer finger food to those who have difficulty using cutlery, and provide adapted crockery and cutlery to enable people to feed themselves where appropriate.
While socialising during mealtimes should be encouraged, offer privacy to those who have difficulties with eating, if they wish, to avoid embarrassment or loss of dignity.
Chat and Observe
Through conversation, observation, or both, you can also spot any problems that some-one may have with eating and drinking (such as chewing or swallowing difficulties) or with the food itself (in terms of suitability, temperature, taste, quality, presentation and/or timing). If there are concerns suggest the person visits their GP. If you have concerns about a relative, friend neighbour or someone you care for you could raise your concerns by contacting the
Adult Access Team 01305 221016 or email@example.com
“Water is a basic nutrient of the human body and is critical to human life”
- World Health Organisation
In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it is recommended that adults drink around 2 litres of fluid a day and considerably more when they perform exercises or if the weather is hot. It is also vitally important that if you are taking “water tablets” or laxatives, to maintain your fluid intake.
Tap water is the perfect way to do this - drinking more water, at least between 6 and 8 glasses a day, will bring many health benefits:
• It can improve your blood pressure
• It improves the suppleness of your skin
• It can protect your teeth and gums
• It helps you to sleep better
• It reduces urinary frequency
• It reduces your headaches
• It eases constipation
• It reduces urinary tract infections
• It can reduce confusion and subsequent risks of falls and fractures
If you need to Build Yourself Up then please remember nourishing drinks count (Section 6, pages 12-14).
Hydration and Older People
Figures show that in the over - 55 age group nearly one third drink just one or two glasses of fluid a day, with one in ten drinking just one glass a day.
Older people are more at risk, because their thirst sensation is diminished, meaning that by the time they feel thirsty, they are already very dehydrated.
This can lead to increased rates of urinary infections, incontinence, dizziness, falls, confusion and headaches. If older people cannot help themselves easily, they become reliant on others and are more at risk.
Drinking water can reduce urinary infections and constipation. It helps concentration, improves our skin, boosts energy levels, helps many people to sleep and generally makes us feel better.
Remember - by the time we feel thirsty, we may already be dehydrated, so we need to keep that fluid going in and make sure we drink more in the warmer weather, as well.
• There are no health advantages to drinking expensive bottled water instead of tap water.
• Fresh tap water does not need to be filtered or treated in anyway; the quality in the UK is amongst the highest in the world.
• If you have a bladder problem, restricting your water intake will NOT help, it will probably make it worse!
• If I drink more water won’t I have to go to the toilet more?
Yes, but only for a short while, but the benefits far outweigh the extra visits. If you suffered with ‘urgency’ before, having to rush to the toilet, drinking more water is likely to help stop this. Concentrated urine irritates the bladder, drink more and there is less irritation.
If you have any concerns about your own health then please contact your GP or practice nurse who will refer you to a dietitian if necessary. If you have concerns about a relative, neighbour, friend or someone you care for please contact the Adult Access Team on 01305 221016 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For unbiased, sound nutritional advice contact your local Dietetic Department on:-
(For West Dorset)
Dorset County Hospital
(For East Dorset)
Community and Specialist Dietetic Services
Dorset Healthcare University Foundation Trust
This information was produced to support the work of Dorset’s Nutritional Care Strategy for Adults partnership.
The partnership would like to thank the following organisations for their time and commitment of their staff without whom this document would not have been written.
Dorset County Hospital Foundation Trust
Dorset Healthcare University Foundation NHS Trust
Dorset County Council