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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.


Changing needs

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.


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