How Aging Affects Our Nutritional Needs

As we age it becomes more important than ever that we eat healthy. Aging is linked to nutritional deficiencies resulting in poor health and a lesser quality of life. You can avoid these deficiencies by focusing attention on your diet and supplements.

As you age you start to lose muscle mass, your skin becomes thin and you produce less stomach acid. Low stomach acid affects the absorption of nutrients like vitamin B12, iron, magnesium and calcium.

Older adults don’t need as many calories because of less activity. If you continue to eat the same number of calories you could gain weight. This is especially true for postmenopausal women. On the other hand as you age you may not recognize your hunger or thirst easily. This can result in dehydration, weight loss and nutrient deficiencies. Even though you may need less calories, you still require high levels of nutrients.

Bone Health

As you age you could lose 3-8% of your muscle mass each decade after age 30. Bone health is important to help prevent fractures, loss of strength and overall poor health.

Calcium and vitamin D are two of the most important nutrients for bone and teeth health. Calcium will help to build and maintain healthy bones. Calcium is also needed for your heart to function properly. Vitamin D is necessary to help your body absorb calcium. Most older adults are not as efficient at producing vitamin D. Your body makes vitamin D from the cholesterol in your skin when it’s exposed to sunlight. As you age, your skin becomes thinner which makes it more difficult to absorb sunlight.


Bone Health Treatment

The recommended levels of vitamin D intake for adults is 600 IU. If you are experiencing deficiencies in vitamin D, the following are great sources:

  • Fortified sources: cereal, milk, orange juice
  • Cod liver oil
  • Egg yolk
  • Portobello mushrooms
  • Salmon, tuna, mackerel
  • Vitamin D supplements

The recommended levels of calcium intake for adults 51 years and up is 2,000 mg. If you are experiencing deficiencies in calcium, the following sources will help:

  • Supplements: Calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate
  • Sardines, salmon
  • Fortified: Tofu, orange juice
  • Edamame, white beans
  • Broccolli, collard greens
  • Figs
  • Wheat bread

Constipation is a common health problem among older adults and is two to three times more likely in women. Older adults move less and may take medication which can all affect regular bowel movements.

You should have a bowel movement every day, but one every 2–3 days is also normal. Other signs of constipation are hard and lumpy stools, straining, sense of incomplete defecation or the need to help the stool come out. Other symptoms include bloating, pain in the abdomen, feeling of fullness, or lack of appetite.

Fortunately, eating more fibre can relieve constipation and prevent diverticular disease. This disease causes small pouches to develop along the colon wall which may become infected or inflamed.


Constipation

Constipation is a common health problem among older adults and is two to three times more likely in women. Older adults move less and may take medication which can all affect regular bowel movements.

You should have a bowel movement every day, but one every 2–3 days is also normal. Other signs of constipation are hard and lumpy stools, straining, sense of incomplete defecation or the need to help the stool come out. Other symptoms include bloating, pain in the abdomen, feeling of fullness, or lack of appetite.

Fortunately, eating more fibre can relieve constipation and prevent diverticular disease. This disease causes small pouches to develop along the colon wall which may become infected or inflamed.

Constipation Treatment

Chronic constipation should first be diagnosed and managed after consultation with your physician. Once that is under control, you can start implementing lifestyle changes listed below:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. This will help to prevent your stool from becoming dry and hard.
  • Eat foods rich in fibre. Fibre will increase the overall weight of your stool and speed up its passage through your intestines.
  • Implement daily physical activities. This will increases the muscle activity in your intestines helping to speed up the passage of stool.
  • If you feel the urge to have a bowel movement, don’t put it off. It will make your stool drier and harder.
  • Develop a regular habit and schedule for your bowel movement.
  • Increase the following foods in your diet:
    • Prunes, plums
    • Apples, pears
    • Kiwi, figs
    • Spinach and greens
    • Beans, peas and lentils
    • Sweet potatoes
    • Oat bran
    • Popcorn
    • Fibre supplements: Metamucil, FiberCon, Citrucel


Healthy Brain Function

Vitamin B12 is required for making red blood cells and maintaining healthy brain function. Vitamin B12 which is not produced by your body is bound to proteins in your food. Stomach acid is required to help separate it from these food proteins. Because older adults tend to produce less stomach acid it can lead to less vitamin B12 absorption.

If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet you may also be at more risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. If you have anemia or have trouble absorbing vitamin B12, you may need to initially receive shots of this vitamin. They could then be replaced with high doses of a supplement, or administered nasally.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Weakness, tiredness, or lightheadedness
  • Heart palpitations and shortness of breath
  • Constipation, diarrhea or loss of appetite 
  • Numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and problems walking
  • Vision loss
  • Mental health problems like depression, memory loss, or behavioural changes 

Vitamin B12 Deficiency Treatment

Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia can be treated with injections of vitamin B12 such as hydroxocobalamin and cyanocobalamin. If the cause of your vitamin B12 deficiency is from a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets by your physician. If you find it difficult to obtain enough vitamin B12 in your diet you may need vitamin B12 tablets for life. Once you have addressed your vitamin B12 deficiency you will not need further monitoring unless symptoms return.

Good sources of vitamin B12 include:

  • Meat
  • Salmon and cod
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Fortified cereals
  • Soy products

Tissue Growth

Protein is necessary to promote tissue growth and repair and maintain it. It is part of your dietary essentials called macronutrients which your body needs to function properly. Proteins are made up of amino acids that can be broken down to create different types of proteins and cells. Your body can produce these amino acids but a small group called ‘essential amino acids’ must be supplied by your diet.

Your best source of essential amino acids comes from animal protein. If you are a vegetarian you will need to eat from various sources.

Despite the need for fewer calories as we age, it’s important to eat an adequate amount of protein each day. The recommended levels of protein for adults is 45 to 60 grams. If you are experiencing deficiencies in protein, the following are great sources:

  • Poultry, lean meat, fish
  • Nonfat or low-fat milk
  • Lentils, Legumes
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Tofu (made from soybeans), tempeh (made from fermented soybeans) and seitan (from wheat gluten)
  • Quinoa, buckwheat
  • Beans and rice
  • Hummus and pita

Cell Damage

Antioxidants protect the cells in your body from damage caused by free radicals. When these free radicals accumulate, they may cause oxidative stress. This could damage your DNA and other important structures in your cells. The damage can be a factor in diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and macular degeneration. You can be exposed to free radicals from certain medicines, pollutants and by-products from body digesting foods.

Eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help to increase your blood antioxidant levels. Sources of antioxidants are:

  • Vitamins C and E
  • Minerals (such as selenium)
  • Flavonoids, which are found in plants such as fruits, red wine and teas
  • Fruits and vegetables (especially blueberries, strawberries and artichokes)
  • Antioxidant supplements (do not use suplements to replace a healthy diet)
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Pecans
  • Goji berries, raspberries
  • Kale, red cabbage, beans, beets

Anti-Aging Foods

I can’t complete this article without highlighting some great anti-aging foods. Even though you may purchase expensive anti-aging skin products, follow a regular exercise program (which is also essential) and sleep enough hours, beauty does start within! Let’s take a look at delicious foods that fight anti-aging:

  • Sesame Seeds – Provides calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and fiber for healthy bones.
  • Nuts – Provides protein, phytosterols and fiber to fight off high-cholesterol.
  • Dark Chocolate – Cocoa, dark chocolate polyphenols which encourages the release of nitric oxide which protects your heart.
  • Pineapple –  Contains fiber, magnesium, vitamin B, testosterone, vitamin C, and phosphorous to protect the  heart, brain, immune system and lungs.
  • Lemons, Limes and Oranges – Provides Vitamin to improve appearance of wrinkles and dull skin. 
  • Watermelon – Contains plenty of water and lycopen (protects skin from ultraviolet rays.
  • Fresh Olives – Contains polyphenols and phytonutrients (protects DNA).
  • Sweet Potatoes – Contains vitamin A which revitalizes your collagen in the skin.
  • Cooked Tomatoes – Provides the antioxidant lycopene which protects your skin.

By eating a wide variety of the foods, you can positively impact your quality of life. If you follow these tips it will help to ensure you get the right nutrients and lead a healthy happy life. As Hippocrates said: “Let food be your medicine.”

One Comment on “How Aging Affects Our Nutritional Needs

  1. Pingback: Aging And Your Immune System – Tranquil Aging

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