Things just don’t work the same as they used to when we were younger, do they? What kept our bodies healthy, lean, and strong back then just doesn’t work the same nowadays, so we need to adjust our approach to nutrition differently. The common diseases and conditions that affect you as you get older could be prevented, alleviated, or helped by getting the proper nutritional balance tailored to your needs. Here are five changes we experience as we get older that can benefit from changes in nutrition.
1. Weight/Metabolism Changes
As we age, our metabolic rate decreases, which can lead to undesirable weight gain and raise our risk for other chronic diseases. Your metabolism starts slowing down as early as age 20 at about 1-2% per decade, until you reach your 40s or 50s; your metabolism slows down at a higher rate. Since our metabolism is based on a number of genetic factors and isn’t necessarily something you can change directly, some people may struggle with weight gain more than others.
Harvard Medical School recommends a diet of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and nonfat or low-fat dairy, as well as portion control and exercise to avoid gaining unhelpful weight. Additionally, our ability to sense thirst decreases as we get older, so older people are much more prone to not drinking enough water, which can lead to dehydration and promote weight gain.
2. Vitamin Deficiencies & Malnourishment
While you may gain weight easier as you get older, there’s something else you’re losing as you age: vitamins and minerals. Elderly populations often struggle with vitamin deficiencies, most notably Vitamin D and calcium, and may even be malnourished. Other common deficiencies for older populations also include vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, folic acid, calcium, and niacin.
The aging process disrupts the absorption of many nutrients – your stomach produces less hydrochloric acid, which makes it difficult to absorb nutrients, but hormonal changes can also result in increased excretion of nutrients. Therefore, it is necessary to make sure that you are making up for this decrease so as to avoid malnourishment and many other side effects of being deficient. Vitamin deficiencies can also be caused by a lack of desire to eat, inability to cook or eat, an unbalanced diet, or hospitalizations for periods of time.
Most deficiencies are avoided or fixed through eating a good, healthy diet; in fact, studies have shown that food intake is highly superior to supplements. To address Vitamin D specifically, egg yokes, fatty fish, and cod liver oil pack a big punch, but also make sure you are getting healthy doses of sunshine. Calcium levels benefit from foods such as dark green vegetables, boned fish, and dairy products. If your doctor considers your deficiencies severe, they might recommend calcium or vitamin D supplements. It is recommended that most other deficiencies be addressed strictly through diet or meal replacements or food supplements if the ability to eat is compromised.
3. Cognitive Decline
Although we’d all like to think that we will remain sharp as a tack in our older years, for many people, sadly, this is not the case. This is why it’s important to take care of your nutritional needs now before cognitive decline progresses any further. The major risk factors for Alzheimer’s are your family history, the presence of apolipoprotein, and a history of head injuries, but also your dietary pattern.
Numerous studies have examined the link between diet and nutrition and the likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s disease. Recent research suggests a Mediterranean diet is the best diet for delaying the progress or neurological disorders because they are high in antioxidants and bioactive compounds which may relieve some of the oxidative stress that happens to our brains as we age. Other scientists specifically show a plant-based diet, including fruits, berries, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and whole grains, helps protect brain health by providing protective compounds and nutrients such as flavonoids (which comes from the pigment in plants), polyphenols, and omega-3 fatty acids.
It’s not recommended to take flavonoid or polyphenol supplements; diet is more effective than supplements at increasing your levels. To boost omega-3 fatty acids, you might talk to your doctor about taking a fish oil supplement, which has high levels of the compound, or a food supplement that contains it.
A Little Older, A Little Wiser
As we age, we must say goodbye to our bodies of yesteryear and adjust our nutrition to fit our body’s health needs. While aging is inevitable, there are ways to address some common geriatric conditions by making sure your diet is full of the nutrients and vitamins that you need. By giving yourself the gift of proper nutrition, you can make the road to old age much less bumpy.