We provide guidance on how you can help care for someone who is at risk or living with malnutrition.

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition is defined as having insufficient nutrients via food for good health and condition. As we get older, our eating habits can change – putting us at more risk of becoming malnourished. It is estimated that malnutrition affects 1.3 million people over the age of 65, with the vast majority (93%) living in their own homes. [1]

In this article, we’re going to look at how to spot signs of malnutrition early and give you advice on how you can help care for someone who is at risk or living with malnutrition.

What causes malnutrition?

Understanding what could be causing your loved one to not be receiving the nutrients they need is the next step to caring for them. There are several causes of malnutrition ranging from health conditions, to physical and social factors and side effects of medicines – each of which can lead to a poor diet, reduced appetite or issues with the body absorbing nutrients from food.

Common health causes include:

  • Conditions which cause long term loss of appetite such as infections, cancer or liver disease.
  • Dementia can be associated with forgetting to eat or being disinterested in food.
  • Mental health conditions such as depression and schizophrenia.
  • Certain medications can also cause unwanted side effects such as nausea and loss of appetite.

Physical and social factors can include:

  • Poor fitting dentures or painful teeth.
  • Reduced mobility which makes it more difficult to cook and get to the shops.
  • Limited knowledge of nutrition and lack of experience cooking for themselves.
  • Being unable to afford the cost of food.

Spotting the signs of malnutrition

It is important to recognize the signs of malnutrition so that you are able to monitor loved ones. The main symptoms of malnutrition to look out for include:

  • Unintentionally losing 5-10% of their body weight within three to six months.
  • Their body mass index (BMI) falling under 18.5. You can calculate a loved ones’ BMI using this handy NHS tool.
  • Clothes, belts and jewellery becoming looser over time.
  • reduced appetite or a lack of interest in food and drinks

If you notice these symptoms in a loved one, encourage them to seek medical advice.*

How to prevent malnutrition

If you believe your loved one is at risk of becoming malnourished, taking these factors into account may help to encourage eating and drinking:

  • Encourage social dining – whether this be through family meals or encouraging your loved one to attend lunch clubs organised in your local community. Studies show that eating with others increases nutritional intake.
  • Serve them their favourite foods to try and encourage eating.
  • Choose foods that remind loved ones of a happy time e.g. childhood or holidays.
  • Use a home meals delivery service, such as our Wiltshire Farm Foods service. This ensures your loved ones have delicious meals ready in their freezer whenever they’re needed.

There are also medical or physical factors you should be aware of to increase their intake of nutrients:

  • Check whether a reduced appetite isn’t a side effect of any medication they are taking.
  • Encourage them to be involved in the cooking process; seeing and smelling the food may stimulate appetite.
  • Make sure they are comfortable in the dining area. Are they sat up properly? Do they have their glasses on?
  • Make sure the dining environment is conducive to eating – for example making sure there are no distractions and that the radio or TV is turned off, ensuring the correct cutlery is out, preparing the food to be cut up or puréed if required.

Managing malnutrition at home

A change in diet is the best way to manage malnutrition at home. The British Dietetics Association (BDA) recommends encouraging snacking between meals, particularly on high energy, high protein snacks to increase nutritional intake (some suggestions include cheese and crackers, thick and creamy yoghurt, nuts and seeds, cereal bars, flapjack, rice pudding and sausage rolls). The BDA guidelines suggest 3 meals and 3 snacks a day. If your loved one has a swallowing difficulty, it is important that any snacks are at a texture that is safe for them; we offer a tasty range of Purée Snacks for those who require a Level 4 puréed diet.

Introducing drinks such as milkshakes and adding whole milk to tea and coffee is an easy way of increasing calorie intake. You can also fortify existing foods by adding butter, cream, cheese or whole milk to mashed potato or sauces, adding cream to porridge, having puddings with creamy yoghurt and adding cream to soups if cooking at home.

Our Mini Meals Extra range offers a great way of enhancing calorie and nutrient intake for those who prefer a smaller portion size. This innovative range of small but delicious dishes serve up that satisfying main meal feeling but in a smaller, more manageable portion size. Each meal contains over 500 calories and at least 20g of protein, making for a great solution for lunch or dinner. Combined with high calorie snacks and breakfasts, they can form part of a convenient solution to help manage malnutrition for smaller appetites.


 To find out more about how Wiltshire Farm Foods can help your loved one and to browse our full range of dishes, simply order a free brochure from the link below.

 [1] BAPEN, ‘Introduction to Malnutrition’, on https://www.bapen.org.uk/malnutrition-undernutrition/introduction-to-malnutrition (2018)

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*Wiltshire Farm Foods content does not replace the advice of any registered Healthcare Professional and you should always seek the advice of your General Practitioner when making changes to your diet. The guidelines in this article are for general healthy eating purposes and if you have any conditions that may require a specialised diet or fluid restriction then you must follow the advice of your dedicated Healthcare Professional.