Eat right to age well
As you get older, your body's
energy needs drop; at the same time, demands for some nutrients increase.
New studies indicate some of these can slow the aging process.
While aging is inevitable, many
of the degenerative changes that prevail past middle age are not if
preventive steps are taken. Recent medical research confirms that good
nutrition can prevent, or at least slow, such debilitating conditions as
osteoporosis, diabetes, and heart disease. In fact, one report estimates
that one-third to one-half of the health problems of people over the age of
65 are related to diet.
Proper nutrition is an important
part of any "aging-well" strategy. Yet, on the whole, seniors are the most
poorly nourished group of all North Americans. There are many reasons for
this: A person's appetite and the senses of taste and smell decline with
age, making food considerably less appealing. many older people experience
difficulty chewing; in addition, heartburn, constipation, lactose
intolerance, and other digestive problems increase with age and contribute
to poor nutrition. Stomach acidity also declines with age, impairing
absorption of nutrients. The loss of a partner, or difficulty in shopping or
preparing meals, may result in a person subsisting on tea, toast, sweets,
canned soups, and other convenience foods that provide little nutrition.
Also, a number of older people living on a fixed income usually cannot
afford such nutritious foods as fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat.
A person's body composition
changes with age, as muscle mass decreases, often due to disuse, and fatty
tissue increases. Because metabolism slows down, fewer calories are
required; experts estimate that the average person should consume 10 percent
fewer calories for every decade after the age of 50. Therefore, a
50-year-old who needs 1,800 calories a day will require 1,440 at age 70, and
perhaps even fewer if he is sedentary. People who fail to cut back on food
intake are likely to gain weight, increasing the risk of heart disease,
diabetes, and osteoarthritis.
With increasing age, the body is
less efficient in absorbing and using some nutrients; osteoporosis and other
medical conditions common among older people also change nutritional needs.
Consequently, an older person is likely to need extra amounts of the
following essential nutrients:
• Calcium to prevent osteoporosis
and maintain healthy bones
• Vitamin D, which the body needs
in order to absorb the calcium.
• Vitamin B12 to build red blood
cells and maintain healthy nerves.
• Zinc to help compensate for
lowered immunity due to aging.
• Potassium, especially in the
presence of high blood pressure or the use of diuretic drugs.
• Folic acid, a B vitamin, which
the body uses to make DNA and red blood cells, may also help to lower blood
levels of homocysteine, a compound in the blood that has been associated
with an increased risk of heart disease.
• Fiber to prevent constipation.
Eat less to live longer ?
Will cutting down on calories
slow your aging clock as well as help cut extra weight off your waistline ?
Since the 1930s, scientists have known that restricting calories not only
delays aging but even reverses some of its consequences in laboratory rats
and mice. By feeding these animals a very low-calorie diet, a mere 30 to 50
percent of what they normally eat, scientists have been able to extend the
lives of not only mice but also fruit flies.
One study was designed to see
whether monkeys, fed a diet that included all required nutrients but
two-thirds the usual calories, would live longer than normal. Data suggests
that the primates who ingested a lean meal, as compared to their peers who
ate all the food they wanted, had a lower incidence of heart disease,
diabetes, and cancer. One theory as to why there's a link between eating
less and living longer ? Metabolism of food leads to the production of free
radicals; the less food consumed, the fewer damaging free radicals produced.
Rats and monkeys, however, are
not humans. Before caloric restriction is recommended as a potential
anti-aging strategy for people, carefully supervised studies on humans (such
as those currently sponsored by the US National Institute on Aging) need to
be done. Caloric restriction is risky to try on your own: while it's
generally known that seniors require fewer calories, the aging body is also
less efficient in absorbing and using some nutrients. Knowing how to cut
calories without compromising essential nutrients can be tricky; becoming
undernourished would erase any benefits of such a diet -- if indeed there
are benefits to be had. Low-calorie diets are likely to be deficient in some
nutrients. and leading proponents of such regimens, such as anti-aging
specialist Dr. Roy Walford, believe that supplementation with vitamins and
minerals is essential.