Should Age Affect How You Eat?
Sunday, October 18, 2015
LifeTime WeightLoss in Becca Hurt, Health Conditions, Nutrition, age, aging, healthy eating, nutrition advice

Should age affect how you eat? 

It’s a fair, if not fundamental, question.

As you add up the decades (and life experiences), you may notice that your body needs a little extra TLC with daily stress, a little more recovery following challenging workouts, a little more discipline in the nutrition department.

The fact is, while our age shouldn’t be an excuse for a slowing metabolism, digestive issues, stiff joints or weight gain (just to name a few factors), it may make us more susceptible to those things. Our condition as we age, however, is an intersection of our body’s natural physiological trajectory and the positive/negative inputs we give it. 

We absolutely have substantial influence over our physical health throughout our lifespan. Age influences but ultimately doesn’t define us. In the words of well-known health blogger and former elite athlete, Mark Sisson“Since when is a little extra life experience a reason to think of yourself as aged and crumbling? We’re not blue cheese. We’re people.”

Our age isn’t the cause per se of potential health issues we may face. However, we should be aware of some additional nutritional changes that can help optimize our health and wellness at every age. 

In an ideal world, we would all follow a healthy way of eating starting in our early years, with ample fibrous vegetables, adequate protein and healthy fats, etc. For the adults who regularly follow the optimum nutritional recommendations at least 80% of the time, age doesn’t require changing too much. The trouble is, however, that too many of us don’t follow these recommendations consistently over our lifetimes. 

With these considerations in mind, here are some additional suggestions for optimizing nutritional input in later decades.

Help Drive Your Digestion.

One of the biggest differentiators as we start to age is the reduction of stomach acid (hydrochloric acid or HCL). 

Why does this matter?

Without adequate amounts of this important substance, the protein we eat will not be broken down, digested, and utilized properly. HCL helps specifically activate the digestive enzymes in the stomach. 

Therefore, even if you’re spot-on with your nutritional intake, lower amounts of HCL mean your body isn’t able to break down proteins and digest them well. 

As a result, you won’t get the full benefits from the protein you eat! You’re only as healthy as the food you digest, not the food you eat. Without proper protein breakdown and absorption, building and maintaining muscle tissue is impaired. 

To assist your body’s ability to break down, digest, and absorb the food and nutrients you consume, simple measures such as chewing your food well and eating slowly can be a great first start actually! Assist your body by doing some of the breakdown for it, right!? 

In addition, supplementing with digestive enzymes can be very beneficial. Dynamic Greens is a great powder formula that includes a blend of vegetable and fruit extracts, vitamins, enzymes, and packs a punch of antioxidants and phytonutrients! 

Another option if you have confirmed lower levels of HCL levels is to consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian about supplementing with HCL capsules

Don’t forget one of the best additions to your diet to help with overall digestion is probiotics! These beneficial bacteria help to regulate the balance of good and bad bacteria and ensure that there are plenty of “good guys” to help keep things moving. 

Stay Strong!

What comes to mind when you envision yourself aging? How do you picture your body composition? Unfortunately, it’s common to lose muscle as we age. 

Is it primarily due to a decline in physical activity (“Use it or lose it”), inadequate protein intake, or a combination of the two…? What came first, the chicken or the egg? 

The loss of muscle tissue associated with age occurs for numerous reasons - some not necessarily related to exercise or nutrition. Things like injury, surgery, stress, and hormonal imbalances are a few other factors that impact our muscle mass as we age. This does not have to be our inevitable fate, however.

It IS possible to retain muscle tissue and even to continue to gain muscle mass in our later decades by ensuring proper nutrition and lifestyle habits. 

The recommended protein intake for the average adult is 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day (e.g. 140-pound person should consume approximately 140 grams of protein per day). 

As I mentioned, due to other factors that impact our body composition as we age, it is even more crucial to get enough protein each day. In fact, older adults actually require even more protein. 

Reminder: muscle IS protein. Animal protein is the primary dietary source we should consume as it contains the highest biological value protein, along with other critical nutrients for adults as they age (e.g. vitamin B12, biotin, folate, etc.). Shoot for including 25-35 grams of protein with each meal and about 15-25 grams in snacks with foods such as chicken, turkey, fish, nuts, seeds, lean meats and eggs.

You can also consider quality protein powders and amino acid supplements for augmenting your protein intake and ensuring muscle maintenance throughout your lifespan.

Up Your Omega-3s!

The more years we have walked the earth, the more stress we endure, agreed? While some stress is good and can be managed appropriately, stress over the course of years and decades can definitely have an impact on your overall health and require additional nutrients from your diet. 

Stress doesn't just entail difficult situations with family and friends or bad days at work. Stress on your body also comes in the form of physical stress, such as stenuous workouts, being sick, or having digestive issues with food(s). 

It could also include stressors from your environment, such as back-lit devices, pesticides, herbicides, cleaning chemicals, and fluorescent lighting. There are numerous factors that impact our stress (cortisol) levels, yet how our bodies perceive that stress is all the same. 

More and more research studies are showing just how harmful inflammation is on our bodies, as it increases our risk for obesity, heart disease, insulin resistance, digestive issues and autoimmune conditions.

Luckily, there are elements of a healthy diet that can help combat the inflammatory effects that stress has. Healthy fats are essential for our physical and mental well-being, as they provide energy, make up every cell membrane and aid in communication between cells, make up much of our brain tissue and nervous system, carry fat soluble vitamins, help synthesize hormones, aid immune function, improve insulin sensitivity and cognitive development.

Did you know that fat also helps improve protein synthesis?! That’s right! Omega-3 not only helps fight inflammation (stops muscle breakdown from inflammation), but it also helps build muscle! 

This healthy fat is found abundantly in wild-caught seafood, such as salmon and mackerel, and in plant sources like walnuts, flax, hemp and pumpkin seeds (but in a less beneficial form). 

Omega-3 from plant sources (called alpha-linolenic acid or ALA) needs to be converted in our bodies to EPA and DHA (the types of omega-3 that provide many of the benefits omega-3 fats are known for), but unfortunately this conversion is extremely limited. Therefore, plant based dietary sources of omega-3 don’t yield nearly the benefits as do fish. 

Since most people typically don’t eat fatty fish like wild-caught salmon on a regular basis, supplementation with a quality fish oil pill should be a regular part of our diets. A general recommendation for the average adult is about 2-4 grams of EPA + DHA each day. However, adjusting the dosage to an individualized recommendation could benefit those dealing with increased inflammation, symptoms of depression, joint issues, skin problems, and/or difficulty losing weight.

In short, as we age it’s imperative that we treat ourselves well and focus on proper nutrition with extra attention to our digestive health, protein and omega-3 intake (and supplementation), and key vitamin and mineral intake. Vitamin B12 (for cognitive health among other key functions) as well as vitamin D, calcium and magnesium (for good bone health!) are a few to definitely check annually with your physician. 

Even slight improvements in your daily nutritional picture can equate to big benefits in your body’s metabolism and function over time. Don’t delay! Start implementing healthy habits today for healthier decades later!

Are you interested in knowing more about the real state of your body’s functioning? About optimizing nutrition given your personal age, medication regimen or health concerns? Talk with a registered dietitian today! Thanks for reading.

In health, Becca Hurt, MS, RD, Assistant Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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