Coping With Changes In Nutritional Needs As We Age
In our high school years, we all took biology class. First thing they taught us, every living organism changes as it ages. Humans are no exception to this. As our bodies grow older, the level of nutrients they need changes accordingly. We will look into these changes in our golden years.
How does the body change at advanced ages?
It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that, as we grow older, our metabolism gets slower and the amount of calories we need decreases. Of course the changes do not stop there, muscle loss, frailty, thinning skin, reduced stomach acids are a few other changes which need special consideration with advancing age.
How do we cope with the changes?
Nutrition is a big issue in our golden years. Due to reduced stomach acids, our bodies’ absorption of vital nutrients changes. At the same time, to maintain our body weight, our calorie intake reduces. If we are to think about it, how we are going to take in more nutrients while eating less, is a big dilemma.
As a result of this, our diets will change drastically. Otherwise, if we keep eating like we did in our younger years, the unnecessary calories will turn into extra fat for storage and go directly into the belly area. Especially in post menopausal women, declining estrogen levels promote fat collection in the abdomen.
Weight gain and muscle loss as we mentioned earlier are quite contrary concepts. Higher body weight means more muscle we need to move that body, but muscle tissue is getting lost due to age. So, instead of gaining weight we will need to lose weight to maintain a healthy ratio.
How will we change our diet?
There is no magic bullet to this. There is no single food there is which solves this problem due to age. We just need to watch what we eat and know our bodies’ nutrient needs. Then we try to keep them as balanced as we can.
The loss of muscle mass and strength is known as sarcopenia and it is the reason for feeling weak and becoming prone to fractures. It is a known fact that after age 30, our bodies lose around 5% of muscle mass with every passing decade. Studies made with more than 2000 elderly participants have shown that people who consumed the most protein, lost muscle mass 40% less than those who consumed the least. Higher protein intake combined with resistance training is a very effective way to fight against sarcopenia.
Another common problem due to change in eating habits in elderly is constipation. We all know the number one suggestion for that: Eat more fiber. And it is not wrong. In addition to being the most effective way for fighting constipation, high fiber diets are also effective against a disease called diverticulitis, which has a very high correlation to western style eating.
Incorporating more fiber into your diet is not a hard thing. Few habit changes, like including veggies and salads into your meals and eating them ahead of other foods is a good start. Whenever you eat grains, go for the whole grains. Eating more fruit nuts, seeds and legumes help with fiber intake. And if you have other digestive issues, you can always take a fiber supplement.
Last but not the least, your body needs water as much as you are in your 20’s and 30’s but desire to drink water diminishes with age. Yet, dehydration is a serious issue, especially for skin care. If necessary, set a reminder alarm to remember drinking water or eating fruits and vegetables, high in water content.
How about other nutrients?
With the advanced age, your body most definitely needs Calcium, Vitamin D and vitamin B-12 of all things the most. With the advanced age, we also start to lose bone tissue. Osteoporosis is a more prominent issue in women than men but men are also prone to this problem. Calcium strengthens the bones. But calcium alone is not enough. Vitamin D is a key component for absorption of calcium into the body.
In our younger days, we are out and about daily, exposing our bodies to daylight which is the best way for our bodies to synthesize the natural vitamin D. But with age, we live more sedentary lives, sometimes not leaving home for days in a row. This is why adding vitamin D supplements to our dietary regime is important.
Also, remember, we said earlier that your stomach acid release slows with the age ? Those acids are in charge of breaking down the food and making vitamin B-12. Less acid secretion means less vitamin B-12 release into the body.
Deficiency of B-12 causes nervous system problems like tingling, numbness of extremities. It also causes heart palpitations, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, flatulence, bloating feeling, constipation, diarrhea (go figure). It is also known that vitamin B-12 deficiency is closely related to mental problems like depression and memory loss.
Other than these 3 important micro-nutrients, our bodies can benefit from elevated levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, iron, magnesium and potassium for different bodily functions. It is always a good idea to consult your primary physician to determine your levels and adjust your intake, rather than self medicating. Too much of a good thing is never good.
All in all, our bodies change daily. We start to feel these changes when they start coming faster and cause a loss in the quality of life department. But preventing these unwanted effects or significantly countering them by paying more attention to our nutrition is not that hard. Knowledge is your best ammunition. Use it wisely.