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Eating Right as We Age

Age-associated changes in metabolism can affect how our bodies process the food we eat.

After age 30, metabolic rate begins to slow. Lean body mass (muscle) decreases and body fat increases. You can slow the rate of decline with proper diet and regular physical activity. However, even with these pre-emptive measures, some metabolic slowing still occurs.

The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter suggests the following dietary precautions, for those 50 years or older:

Calories. Be sure you’re getting a sufficient amount to fuel your daily needs. With a slower metabolic rate, older adults don’t need as many daily calories as a younger person. However, many older adults consume far less than they should be getting. Low calories can lead to fatigue, depression and weak immune systems.

Protein. This vital nutrient is less efficiently used as we age. More protein is needed by the older adult than is recommended for younger people. Health professionals recommend about 100 grams daily for the average older male and 80 grams for the average female. However, too much protein can overwork the kidneys and cause urinary problems.

Vitamins and minerals. The B complex vitamins, vitamin D, and minerals such as calcium, zinc, potassium, magnesium, iron and chromium may need particular attention. Visit a dietary professional to be sure you are getting sufficient amounts. Also, medications may affect the body’s efficiency in absorbing these nutrients. Supplements can be used to meet your needs, but they should never replace or take priority over a healthy diet.

Other suggestions to improve eating habits and health:

Drink at least the recommended 6-8 cups water daily. Dehydration can be a serious problem for older adults. The functioning of our organs slows with age, and it takes longer to get rid of toxins. Blood volume decreases without enough fluid. This makes certain organs less efficient at filtering out toxins, so the heart needs to work harder to pump blood throughout the body.

Pay attention to your oral health. Painful gums or poor-fitting dentures can get in the way of following a healthy diet.

Talk with your doctor about the medications you are taking. Some may affect your appetite or the way your body absorbs the nutrients from your food.

Regular, light exercise like walking can help improve appetite.

Avoid consuming too many sweets. The body’s efficiency at absorbing sugars slows with age, increasing the risk for obesity. More often, choose healthier, high-fibre snacks like fresh fruit and vegetables or nuts and seeds, instead of cookies and cake.

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