There is no doubt that making better food choices is a key to long-term health. But when it comes to making the best choices, the stakes get even higher as you age. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is crucial for health regardless of age, but becomes even more important later in life. Some nutrients, like vitamin B-12, may eventually need to be supplemented in old age.
The start of making optimum dietary choices as you age is knowledge of the special challenges you’ll face; get started early and those habits will become second nature.
Why do dietary choices depend on age?
As people age, they become on average less active and begin to lose muscle mass. Resting metabolic rate (calories burned at rest) slowly declines with age too, so less food is required to maintain a healthy weight. This process may become noticeable as early as age 30!
However, when you eat smaller amounts of the same foods, you also get smaller amounts of nutrients. If you were barely meeting, say, folate requirements when you were 25, by the time you are 50, you may be deficient in folate, and heading for anemia. And that’s only the beginning.
Many nutrients are absorbed more poorly as we age. For example, absorption of B-12 requires a protein — intrinsic factor — produced by special cells of the stomach lining in order to be absorbed. As you age, those cells produce less intrinsic factor, so B-12 absorption declines. B-12 shortage causes pernicious anemia, neurological problems, and increases homocysteine levels, raising heart disease risk.
Eating less food also means less fiber, not to mention less antioxidants and phytochemicals . . . the list is almost endless! Each shortage contributes to lower immunity and heightened disease risk, and decreases both the quality and quantity of life.
How should I be eating as I age?
To counteract these problems, you must push all processed food out of your diet. You need to take active measures to increase the nutrient density of your food, so you get more fiber, protein, antioxidants, and phytonutrients per calorie. You should try to consume:
- At least three cups of veggies each day (four or more is even better); eat more leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, and less starchy selections.
- At least one cooked cup of beans 3-5 days per week
- Moderate amounts of healthy fats from nuts and seeds. Limit oils, although a small amount of EVOO is okay occasionally.
- Low glycemic load meals, because they help to promote insulin sensitivity.
- Adequate, high-quality protein for tissue repair. Aim to get at least 20% of your calories as protein.
- Probiotic foods like lacto-fermented sauerkraut and plain kefir daily.
- 2-4 high-quality fish oil capsules daily.
- A large variety of plant-based foods to cover the spectrum of phytonutrients.
Learn how much you need to support your daily energy needs. This may require measuring portion sizes for a while and adopting strategies to avoid overeating. If you want to eat more, increase your physical activity. Walk daily. Join a gym and start lifting weights.
One of the benefits of aging is accumulated experience and wisdom. Now is the time to use those qualities to help yourself to a better life. Choose natural foods, chew slowly, and savor each bite fully. Food is love, so start by loving yourself.
CATEGORIES: Diet, Aging, Health Food, Nutrients, Healthy