Heart Health in Older Adults



Our risk of heart disease increases as we age. An unfortunate fact that we cannot control, just like genetic predisposition. The good news is that there are many other risk factors which can be modified to bring a reduction in cardiovascular risk such as diet, exercise and smoking habits, all of which remain important right up until old age. Here we look at what can be done to support those in care and residential homes through food and diet to maintain good heart health for as long as possible.

The Mediterranean Diet

A Mediterranean diet has been proven time and time again to be beneficial for many aspects of health, including cardiovascular and heart health. Whilst sadly we do not benefit from the balmy Mediterranean weather, can still take advantage of the dietary principles followed by many traditional cultures such as in Spain, Italy and Greece where rates of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes are lower.


So, what does the Mediterranean diet look like? Lots of pizza and pasta? Sadly not; what we mean by a traditional Mediterranean diet is plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish including both white and oily fish such as salmon, kippers and mackerel, wholegrains, unsalted nuts and seeds, lean meat and chicken, low-fat dairy products and unsaturated fats such as olive and vegetable oils. It also means a reduced intake of saturated fat such as butter, lard and ghee and other animal products such as cream and red meat.

Other important foods

There are some specific foods which have been found to either increase or decrease cholesterol levels which, if high, demonstrate an increased risk of heart disease such as a heart attack and stroke.

Foods that can increase cardiovascular risk

  • Saturated fat e.g. butter, full-fat dairy products, visible fat on meat
  • High fat, high sugar foods such as biscuits, cakes, chocolate, ice cream and sweet pastries
  • Foods high in trans fats such as margarines and fast foods as well as those listed above in the high fat, high sugar foods list

Foods that reduce cardiovascular risk

  • Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, rapeseed oil and avocados
  • Polyunsaturated fat found in sunflower, corn, rapeseed oils, nuts, seeds and oily fish such as salmon, sardines & mackerel
  • Wholegrains such as those found in wholegrain bread, brown rice, quinoa, barley, high fibre breakfast cereals & oats
  • Plant stanols and sterols which can be found in cholesterol lowering products such as flora proactive and benevolent. NB – these must be eaten in a particular dosage each day to have the desired effect

A note on malnutrition

Malnutrition is a significant risk for many individuals living in a care home. For those who are at a low weight or who have lost significant amounts of weight over a short period of time, reducing their risk of malnutrition must take priority.

Focusing on foods that are nutrient dense instead of calorie dense (sugar/ fat) can help the consumption of a wider range of nutrients including energy, protein, vitamin, minerals, and fibre, whilst still being heart protective.

A easy way to identify if a food is nutrient dense’ is whether it is something designed by nature to support a new life e.g. egg (which could potentially ‘grow’ a baby bird), whole seeds or nuts (from which a new plant could potentially grow) or milk (which would potentially ‘grow’ a baby animal). If the answer is yes, then this is likely to be a nutrient-dense ingredient.

Foods to include for those who may be malnourished or at risk of, include nut butters, skimmed milk powder, ground almonds, olive oil, Greek yoghurt.

Tips on catering for good heart health in care homes:

  • Incorporate plenty of fresh (or frozen) fruit, vegetables and wholegrains into your dishes wherever possible
  • Cook fresh wherever possible and limit the use of processed items
  • Incorporate heart-healthy ingredients into sweet treats such as oat-based cakes or flapjacks for mid-afternoon tea
  • Offer oily fish on the menu regularly once or twice per week such as baked salmon at lunch or sardines on toast for tea
  • Reduce red meat on the menu and choose leaner cuts of meat

If you need any further advice or support, please get in touch

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