Very old people (referred to as those aged 85 years and over) are the fastest growing age segment of many Western societies owing to the steady rise of life expectancy and decrease in later life mortality. In the UK, there are now more than 1·5 million very old people (2·5 % of total population) and the number is projected to rise to 3·3 million or 5 % over the next 20 years. Reduced mobility and independence, financial constraints, higher rates of hospitalisation, chronic diseases and disabilities, changes in body composition, taste perception, digestion and absorption of food all potentially influence either nutrient intake or needs at this stage of life. The nutritional needs of the very old have been identified as a research priority by the British Nutrition Foundation's Task Force report, Healthy Ageing: The Role of Nutrition and Lifestyle. However, very little is known about the dietary habits and nutritional status of the very old. The Newcastle 85+ study, a cohort of more than 1000 85-year olds from the North East of England and the Life and Living in Advanced Age study (New Zealand), a bicultural cohort study of advanced ageing of more than 900 participants from the Bay of Plenty and Rotorua regions of New Zealand are two unique cohort studies of ageing, which aim to assess the spectrum of health in the very old as well as examine the associations of health trajectories and outcomes with biological, clinical and social factors as each cohort ages. The nutrition domain included in both studies will help to fill the evidence gap by identifying eating patterns, and measures of nutritional status associated with better, or worse, health and wellbeing. This review will explore some of this ongoing work.