Nutrition for the Aging Body and Mind
Whether we want to admit it or not, with age comes declining function of every major bodily system we have. The World Health Organization defines the aging population as 60 and older, but symptoms may start to show decades earlier. Common aging concerns should be addressed early when they are typically more manageable – or even preventable.
Common concerns that affect the aging population can be supported to a great extent with dietary modifications and smart supplementation.
There are two main theories on aging: programmed aging (our genetics), and the wear-and-tear-theory (our lifestyle choices). Most experts agree that both theories are valid and research holds valuable lessons on how to diminish the effects of the aging process – especially through nutrition and exercise.
Here are a few inevitable changes to expect as we age and ways to slow and support this natural process:
Your stomach acid decreases. Stomach acid plays an important role in digesting protein, as well as killing dangerous organisms that may be introduced from food. Consuming what may have been a normal amount of protein to you before may now feel “heavy” and uncomfortable from lack of acid. As we age, adequate protein intake becomes more important as it helps us preserve our muscle mass and boost metabolism. To build muscle, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consuming about 0.64 to 0.82 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily, which means a person weighing 150 pounds could eat between 96-132 grams of protein per day.
There are over-the-counter digestive enzymes and betaine hydrochloric acid (HCl) supplements that can be taken with each protein-containing meal to support digestion. These can be game changers as they allow our body to use protein more efficiently and help unlock more vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin B12. You should talk to your doctor about supplementing with HCl as contra indicators include NSAIDs, some anti-inflammatories and antacid prescriptions.
There are key nutrients you have trouble absorbing. In addition to B12 and protein, the nutrients that become especially important to adequately absorb as you age are vitamin D and calcium. There is a widespread deficiency of vitamin D in all ages, but especially in those over 70.1 Vitamin D3 promotes calcium absorption in the gut and together they support mineralization and strengthening of the bones, preventing osteoporosis. Focusing on obtaining these two nutrients from food first is always the best approach, but many still need to supplement. Vitamin D3 is known as the sunshine vitamin and can be found in fatty fish. Dairy is a good source for calcium which can also be found in poppy seeds, almonds, canned fish with edible bones such as sardines or salmon, and even leafy greens.
Your muscle mass decreases. Humans peak in muscle mass around 30 years of age and lose muscle by a rate of 3-5 percent annually.2 Causes may include hormonal changes, decreased exercise, and inadequate intake of protein and calories. Eating enough calories, particularly protein, and the ability to properly absorb protein, along with regular weight resistance exercises, can help significantly preserve or even build muscle mass in later life. You get extra benefits from supplementing with protein sources of collagen peptides usually found in powder form, as it offers a low-calorie protein source and supports anti-aging of the skin and joints.
Calorie needs decrease. Weight gain increases with age statistically. Have an honest evaluation of your activity level and body composition to determine how many calories you may actually need per day. If muscle loss is an issue, keep your protein intake on the higher range of recommendations and eliminate fried foods, sugar, and refined grains to manage your calorie intake.
Your brain is not as “sharp” thanks to your diet and gut bacteria. Memory loss is a common complaint as we age, but recognizing it early on is important. Stress, alcohol, smoking, and lack of activity all contribute to inflammation in the body and brain, but dietary choices are important, not only for specific nutrients, but also for the bacterial diversity food provides – and your brain needs.
One out of three elderly die of Alzheimer’s in the United States. Studies now show that poor balance of bacteria in the gut could be associated with the rate of Alzheimer’s progression, and “good gut bacteria” may delay Alzheimer’s and dementia-associated cognition impairment.3 Prebiotic fiber plays a big role in feeding the good bugs in your body and can be sourced from the fibers found in vegetables and fruit. Blueberries are uniquely effective for memory loss and cognition; omega-3 rich foods like salmon and flaxseeds also have proven brain-boosting benefits. For more on nutrition for brain health, I recommend reading Brain Maker, The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain by David Perlmutter, MD.
We may not be able to turn back the clock or change our genes, but today, we can target our health at the cellular level with strategic modifications to our diet and lifestyle in an effort to feel better, look better and live longer.
Tiffany is a certified nutrition consultant and functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner and can be reached at (760) 285.1221. For more information visit www.tiffanydalton.com.
References: 1) https://www.iofbonehealth.org/new-vitamin-d-recommendations-older-men-and-women. 2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3940510/. 3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5651177/