As the old saying goes, time flies when you are having fun and this includes life. Sometimes we are so busy enjoying life that aging is one of those things that can just creep up on us, and before we know it we are ten years older than we were only a moment ago, or what seems like a moment.
Average life expectancy in England is currently 81 years and if you want to give yourself the best chance of reaching that age or above, then good nutrition is essential. Knowing how our bodies nutritional needs change as we age can help make sure we stay in optimum health for as long as possible. So let’s take a look at some of the things you should be doing nutritionally to look after both mind and body during the aging process and make it as graceful as possible.
Daily Energy Needs
As we age our body’s daily energy needs slowly decrease, as does our metabolism. Most people also become more sedentary as age increases and this means that calorie intake must be adjusted accordingly to match the level of physical activity that may or may not be done. As we move through the aging process, it is most likely that far fewer calories are required compared to younger years. In fact, although the secret to the fountain of youth still lays undiscovered, despite many peoples best efforts, quite a lot of science is beginning to suggest that by eating less we can extend our life.
As we move into the twilight years, many people continue to eat in the same way as they always have done by eating the same foods and consuming the same portion sizes due to habit, however this can certainly be detrimental to the waist line. The hormonal changes that occur as we age, are also responsible for making our body more prone to depositing more body fat, especially around the mid-section. So be aware of your calorie intake, especially if you have noticed a more sedentary lifestyle creeping in, and reduce calorie intake slowly, so it better matches with your specific body requirements.
Many research studies have shown that as we age our immune response reduces, meaning that the elderly are more susceptible to infections and diseases. Although there are many physiological reasons for this, some research has shown a link between micronutrient deficiency in the elderly and decreased immune function. Micronutrients are nutrients required in small
amounts in our diet and are essential for good health. They include all the main vitamins and minerals such as the B vitamins, vitamin C, Iron, zinc and magnesium to name a few.
The elderly tend to eat less and do not eat as varied a diet hence why micronutrient deficiency is more common in the elderly and why immune function can be impaired. To reduce the risk of micronutrient deficiency as we age, make sure that a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables are eaten regularly and if your appetite decreases, don’t just stop eating, continue to eat but reduce your portion sizes and eat little and often as opposed to eating larger meals.
As we age, the whole digestive system can start to slow down and this can result in a few unwanted effects. In fact it is estimated that around 40% of older adults have one or more age-related digestive symptom each year, one of which is constipation. This of course is not fun at any age, but can certainly become more problematic in the very elderly, especially when people tend to be less mobile which can exacerbate the problem. Constipation is more common as we age due to food passing through the colon more slowly resulting in more water been reabsorbed back into the body and a harder more impassable stool is therefore formed that is much harder to pass. Magnesium can be your friend here and helpful in constipation as it helps draw water into the bowel and helps make stools more passable. Avocados, bannanas, brown rice, figs and nuts are all good sources of this mineral so make sure you incorporate it into your daily diet.
Constipation can also be commonly caused by certain medications as well as dehydration when fluid intake is not meeting your body’s demands. This can be especially problematic for those elderly patients taking diuretics, which are commonly prescribed for high blood pressure and heart failure. Diuretics help relieve these symptoms by making you urinate more, but this can easily cause dehydration, so sipping fluids little and often can help counteract the fluid lost by diuretic medication and help to ensure healthy bowel movements.
At around the age of fifty the stomach acid, which our stomach produces naturally to help break down the foods we eat, starts to reduce. This can result in vitamin B12 deficiency, as gastric acid is needed to ‘free’ vitamin B12 from the food we eat. It is estimated that 10-30% of adults over the age of fifty may have difficulty in absorbing B12 from food, which is why vitamin B12 deficiency is one of the more common deficiencies seen in the elderly. It is however now often diagnosed quickly, as its symptoms can also mimic other things. Symptoms such as tiredness, anemia and memory problems are common with B12 deficiency and should be investigated by the GP if symptoms are persistent. Remember too that certain medications such as proton-pump inhibitors, some antacids and H2 Blockers, which are often taken more frequently in the elderly, can all suppress gastric acid secretion and therefore people taking these medications are often at greater risk of B12 deficiency.
It’s not all bad news though, because even those people who have reduced gastric acid can usually still absorb vitamin B12 from fortified foods such as some cereals, or if required a multivitamin containing B12 can also be taken. Eggs and Delamere Dairy goats’ milk are great natural sources of B12 and very easy to digest too, so can certainly be used to make sure you are consuming B12 in the diet naturally.
Diet & Frailty
Frailty is one of the main concerns amongst the aging population especially when this has the potential to impact on independence and quality of life. It is inevitable that there will come a
time when frailty, in some form or another, will start to set in, but recent research shows there is a relationship between diet and frailty levels. Results have shown that a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk or frailty as well as increased quality of life and longevity. The Mediterranean diet is basically a moderate-fat diet, containing an abundance of fruit, vegetables and grains, high olive oil consumption and limited intake of red meat promoting fish and white meat consumption instead. It is just unfortunate we don’t have the Mediterranean sun in this country to eat all this fabulous food Al Fresco, whilst soaking up the vitamin D.
Zinc has been found in many studies to be critical for brain power, enhanced memory and thinking skills, so is vital to have in the diet as we age to keep our minds as ‘sharp’ as possible. Keeping zinc levels at an optimum is also important as we also know that zinc deficiency is linked to memory loss in people with Alzheimer's. Foods high in zinc include shrimps, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, leafy greens such as spinach, kidney beans and if you are feeling adventurous oysters are packed full of zinc.
Calcium is not just a mineral we need a lot of at the start of life to make sure we develop healthy bones, but it is also a mineral essential for the healthy aging process.
This is especially the case for postmenopausal women whose oestrogen levels are much lower, which causes the bones to lose mineral content resulting in bone loss. It is therefore super important to make sure your diet includes high calcium and vitamin D foods, which can help prevent bone loss and minimise the risk of osteoporosis. Dairy foods are the biggest source of calcium and probably the most versatile in all its forms, which include cheese, milk and yogurts. Delamere Dairy has a fantastic selection of goat dairy products, which provide an excellent source of calcium that is not provided naturally by other milk alternatives such as soya or almond milk. This is something to be aware of if you are post-menopausal or have family history of osteoporosis and are currently consuming milk or other dairy alternatives that do not have a good calcium source.
No matter what age we are, eight or eighty, we all need to have a well-balanced and nutritious diet packed full of a variety of foods. We just need to make sure that we modify it slightly through the aging process and adapt it, to ensure we give the body what it needs so we can continue to live as active and healthy a life as possible for as long as possible. Remember though, as a wise person once said, growing old is compulsory, but growing up is optional!