Nutrition for healthy ageing

Last year Jane Fonda proudly announced that she had put on some weight, and that she was looking better. She said growing up, she was told it was a choice between her ‘ass or her face’, but now she’s getting complements on both.

Many women spend their lives restricting food to try and stay fashionably thin. For older adults, loosing weight can actually be deleterious and can be associated with mortality. With weight loss, there is also loss of muscle. From the age of forty onwards, there is a slow loss of muscle mass, but if this is accelerated this can lead to weakness that impacts day-to-day function. More than ever, in our sixties and beyond, nutrition is key to staying healthy and active. Instead of dieting to lose weight, the following are the nutrition requirements for active aging.

Protein

Surprisingly, older adults actually have a higher protein requirement than younger adults, and this is especially true for people who are frail. Having a higher protein intake protects against age associated muscle loss and stops the development of sarcopenia, which is a loss of muscle that leads to trouble with daily functions, like standing from a chair. Maintaining muscle strength will not only maintain independence, but also decrease the risk of falls.

Nutrition tip: Every meal should have a source of protein, like dairy, meat, eggs or legumes for the vegetarians.

Healthy fats

Healthy fats are a critical part of a balanced diet. These are actually incorporated into your cell membranes and so the right kinds of fats decrease inflammation. A higher intake of healthy fats, particularly omega-3, can decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke. These studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet, with extra olive oil or nuts, can even lead to better performance on cognitive tests and so may offer some protection against dementia.

Nutrition tip: Try and improve intake of omega-3 and polyunsaturated fats by eating lots of fish, nuts and olive oil.

Fibre

Fibre is the part of the plant foods we eat that we cannot digest. This fibre provides nutrition for the billions of microbes that call our gut home. A diet high in fibre helps to ensure a health range of gut bacteria, which is critical to wellbeing. Fibre decreases the risk of certain cancers, particularly bowel cancer, but it also has an impact on whole body health and can protect against diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Foods that are naturally high in fibre include vegetables, oats and legumes. A high fibre diet will also help you avoid constipation.

Nutrition tip: Chia seeds can be added to porridge, yoghurt and even ice cream are an easy way to increase fibre and are also high in omega-3 fat.

Variety

It is easy to fall into habit and eat the same foods every day. Different foods will contain different micronutrients, so by eating a restricted diet, there is a risk of nutrient deficiency. Unfortunately studies have repeatedly shown that other than in the case of specific deficiencies, vitamin tablets do not have health benefits and are no replacement for a large variety of fresh food.

Nutrition tip: eat the rainbow! Including a variety of vegetables and fruit every day is the best way to give your body all the vitamins and minerals you need.

Vitamin D and Calcium

Osteoporosis occurs when bones become thin and brittle. As bones are made of calcium, it is important to ensure adequate calcium intake. The easiest way to do this is with dairy foods, like milk, cheese and yoghurt.

Nutrition tip: for those who can’t tolerate dairy, look for soy products that are fortified with calcium, green leafy vegetables and almonds.

Not only are restrictive diets unpleasant, they can actually be dangerous as we age because of the risk of muscle loss and nutritional deficiency. Making an effort to eat a big variety of vegetables and enjoying dairy, eggs, fish and olive oil can decrease the risks of frailty, dementia and cardiovascular disease. Many women spend a lifetime caring for partners and children and worrying about their nutritional needs before their own. We need to remember that we deserve just as much love and care as you would provide for others. This New Year, rather than dieting to look a certain way, I challenge you to focus on nourishing your body to stay healthy and strong for as long as possible.

First published on Sixty & Me

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