Strategy 1: Eat Well
As we age, good nutrition is more important than ever. Getting old isn’t for sissies! And as backwards as it may seem, each passing year decreases our energy needs, while at the same time increasing our nutrition needs.
What that means in the real world is we need to eat less calories but get more nutrition.
Our clients mention this common frustration all the time; “I don’t eat any more food than I used to, but I am still gaining weight. It’s not fair!”
It may not be fair, but it is physiology. Because of the physical and lifestyle changes that usually happen as we get older, the need for calories actually decrease.
But the thing we often miss is our nutrition requirements actually increase. Because of the complex changes that are happening to our metabolism, hormones and immune system, among other factors, the food we eat needs to be nutrient-dense and more easily digestible.
As we get older, our bodies metabolize what we eat differently. You probably know by now that the pop tarts, ho-ho’s and twinkies you ate when you were a kid (and got away with) do some pretty ugly things now.
What you may not know is that even the good choices we put on our plates metabolizes differently, so we need to pay attention to that as well.
Here’s some basic guidelines on how your macronutrient balance needs to shift.
In many people, aging causes “anabolic resistance”, which is when protein synthesis (how much of the good stuff our body can actually use) decreases. So what does that mean? We need to eat more to get the same effect.
The recommendation for healthy older adults (I am 52 and put myself in that category) is at least 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. When you are sick, you need even more; 1.2 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, and if severely ill, even more.
For a person that weighs 150 lbs. (~68kg) that equals to between 80 and 100 grams per day, or 4-5 palm size servings.
The only caution is if you have or have had kidney problems. Consult with a doctor, Registered Dietician, or certified nutrition professional for appropriate amounts.
Quality carbohydrates are the key here. I don’t like to use the terms “good” and “bad” carbs, however there are high quality choices that should be our preferred source, most of the time.
Focus on vegetables first, a little fruit, and some whole grains. Note: Most of us eat too many grains because we like them, not because we need them. Even the best whole grains are calorie dense and easy to over-eat. And no, that doughnut is NOT whole grain.
Quality carbs also tend to be higher in fiber (aim for 25 grams per day), which keeps the system moving, if you know what I mean. Well-cooked root vegetable, root vegetables, fruits, and true whole grains are your best bet here. You can also take a sugar-free powdered supplement such as psyllium husk if necessary.
Fats are so important to optimum health, yet in many circles still much maligned. Fats play a primary role in regulating the inflammatory response in our body, and the kind of fat we eat makes a huge difference if that response is helping us or hurting us.
Why does inflammation matter?
Research indicates that systemic inflammation may be THE common contributing factor in just about every disease; diabetes, cancer, heart disease, even diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer’s.
To lessen inflammation, eliminate trans-fat (which tend to be high in processed foods), and moderate saturated fats (eg animal fats) and low-quality omega-6 fats such as corn and soybean oil.
Replace those fats with good quality omega-6 (e.g. extra-virgin olive oil and avocado), and especially omega-3 fats (sardines, mackerel, salmon herring, anchovies, chia and hemp seeds, and walnuts). Three servings of fats from these sources should be your goal. I also recommend supplementing with a high-quality fish oil, unless you are on blood thinners, in which you should consult your doctor first.
Tip: You don’t have to be a saint and remove all treats; face it, you won’t anyway. And really, who wants to go through life without birthday cake? The key is to prioritize nutrient-dense foods in a balanced manner, most (like 90%) of the time. When you do that, a lot of the rest of it takes care of itself.
A Word on Alcohol
Here’s my advice (and what most experts suggest).
If you don’t drink alcohol already – don’t start.
In spite of what you may hear in the media, the research on alcohol consumption (even moderate) is mixed.
Excess alcohol consumption is linked to health problems in about every part of your body; heart, brain, immune system, liver and kidneys, metabolism. Besides that, I guess it’s ok, right?
But seriously, there are some very important functions alcohol impairs, besides your ability to drive. The body cannot store alcohol, so it always prioritizes clearing it from your system. The liver goes to work metabolizing your bourbon (or beer), and there are side effects; delay or neglect of other tasks, one of which is metabolizing fat.
That’s right, the long of the short of it is while there is alcohol in your body, you aren’t burning body fat. Doesn’t matter how much you work out or how many miles you run. Until the liver is done with the booze, the fat’s staying where it is.
You may also be interested in what “moderation” is.
According to the United States Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, “moderate drinking” is:
Women: Up to 7 drinks a week, no more than 3 in one day.
Men: Up to 14 drinks a week, no more than 4 in a single day.
What is a “drink”?
•12 oz. beer with 5% Alcohol By Volume (ABV)
•5 oz. glass of wine; 12% ABV
•3 oz. of fortified wine (sherry/port); 18% ABV
•1.5 oz. of liquor (e.g. rum, rye, vodka); 40% ABV
So the old saying is right; “Think Before You Drink”, and especially before you drink too much.
Your health is directly affected by the quality of what you eat.
Your health is directly affected by the quality of what you eat.
As you can clearly see, it's really just news. Whether it's good or bad really depends on what you do with it. There is plenty of room for enjoying the foods you like to eat. Just don't do it all the time. Plenty of veggies, lean protein and healthy fats should be on your plate all the time. Have dessert, once in awhile. Have pizza, once in awhile. Have fill in the blank)______________________, once in awhile.
When you eat the foundational stuff 90% of the time, you are almost always on the right track. That means 2 or 3 times a week you can and should have the "other stuff".
And remember the prize. Good health for a lifetime is so worth it!
Stay tuned for Part 2!