Eat Your Age

Gianna Wurzl

Recent studies in nutrition science have shown that diet plays a key role in aging gracefully.

Whether you are looking at the bioactive compounds found in fruits and vegetables that promote healthy aging, flavonoids that reduce risks for oxidative stress or healthy fats that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, a healthy diet can have miraculous effects on how well you age and whether you will suffer from and/or die prematurely from chronic disease.

What are the best food choices to improve aging?

Choosing the best food for improving aging may be a matter of what you consider an improvement in your aging process. While it is true that pomegranates and blueberries contain free-radical fighting antioxidants that may help fine lines and smooth your skin that may not be the most important thing for you to consider as you age. The antioxidants contained in these foods can also help fight inflammation throughout the body which is going to be a far more important effect, than fighting wrinkles.

In general, including a wide variety of whole real food (and not processed junk) that provides with you a wide range of nutrients is your smartest choice so you can cover the farthest range of disease-preventing and health-supporting benefits that sound nutrition provides. At the same time, it is important to limit or avoid junk and processed food that is typically lacking in nutrients and has unnecessary added fats and sugars and excess calories.

Is diet important for health and vitality in aging?

Diet can control many aspects of how you feel and how much energy you have. According to Web M.D., many foods give you a boost in energy and help you feel especially full of vitality even as you age, including nuts, lean meats, salmon, leafy greens, colourful vegetables, and foods high in fibre.

This extra boost of energy may not seem very important when you are young, but as you age, it becomes a key ingredient in maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. Diet is one of the most important factors in maintaining health and vitality as you age.

Why is maintaining a healthy weight important as I get older?

Obesity is currently the number two cause of preventable death in America after smoking. About one-third of all American adults are overweight or obese, these numbers present an epidemic level of the weight problem in America, and further highlight the need for vigilance in diet, and the need for regular exercise.

Obesity is also the culprit in many lifestyle diseases that prematurely kill thousands of people around the world. Overweight and obesity-related health problems include coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, joint-related conditions, metabolic syndrome, sleep apnoea, and the list goes on. 

The last thing you want to do is give yourself a double dose of risk for these preventable and serious conditions. Aging gracefully and living with vitality in your golden years means maintaining a healthy weight to reduce the risks of many preventable diseases and maintaining a high quality of life.

Is portion control important in aging?

Your body needs less food as you age because metabolism begins to naturally slow as you get older. Most of us miss the memo, which is why we see a 5 to 10% weight gain each year after age 50.

What does nutrient dense mean?

Nutrient-dense foods are foods that have the most nutrients with the least calories. Therefore, a nutrient-dense food will provide you with a high number of vitamins, minerals, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and/or healthy fats with the least number of calories. For example, broccoli is nutrient-dense, as a serving of it is very high in nutrients, but very low in calories, conversely a chocolate chip cookie is high in calories, but has very little nutrients so is not considered to be nutrient-dense.

It is important to focus on nutrient-dense foods as you age because every calorie counts, so each food you eat needs to be of value. Additionally, people begin to see a drop in appetite as they get older and this means that they are not getting as many nutrients as they should because they are eating less food.

Eating nutrient-dense food means that you are focused on the quality of the food rather than the quantity of the calories. This way you can ensure that your body will have everything it needs to keep functioning properly throughout your senior years.

What role do antioxidants play in the aging process?

There are many theories about why we age. One of the theories is oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Free radicals are atomic reactions within the mitochondria of cells that cause damage to cells within the body. This is known as oxidative damage. The free radical theory of aging is very technical but to sum it up free radicals cause inflammation and premature and accelerated aging.

It is thought that antioxidants can help reduce free radical damage to the body. Foods high in antioxidants have been shown to reduce risks for many age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s, and inflammatory diseases like arthritis, heart disease and others, which may be the result of oxidative damage due to free radicals. Live Science notes that our bodies can produce some antioxidants on their own but not in sufficient amounts to keep free radicals in check, making it important to eat foods that contain them, specifically fresh fruits, and vegetables in all colours.

What are key nutrients for the ageing woman?

Women need to focus on specific nutritional needs as they age because they are at risk for specific age-related diseases, including osteoporosis from which they suffer at higher rates than men do. This means the intake of calcium and vitamin D is of utmost importance to keep bones strong and reduce risks for osteoporosis.

Menopause also presents the need for certain nutrients. While menopausal women need less iron, they do need an increase in vitamin B12 to reduce the risk of becoming anaemic. Foods that are high in vitamin B12 include fish, shellfish, fortified cereals, dairy products, and eggs.

Discussing your body’s changes with your physician may help you identify other nutritional deficiencies that you have after menopause.

I love junk food, am I putting myself at risk?

Eating “bad foods” occasionally and in moderation will not put you at risk for age-related and diet-related diseases (unless you have a pre-existing condition like diabetes or heart disease).

The key is understanding what moderation is, specifically that it is splurging on occasion and in small amounts, allowing you to enjoy the occasional indulgence with little risk to your health.

Alternatively, if you indulge too much or worse yet all the time then yes you are most certainly putting yourself at very high risk for various lifestyle diseases, including heart disease, stroke, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and possibly premature death.

Is a plant diet good for healthy aging?

Plant-based diets are wonderful at any age. They are good for your waistline and provide you with ample vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. There is only one concern when eating a plant-based diet, and that is that you are getting enough protein. Essential proteins are proteins that cannot be produced by your body. Most complete essential proteins are only found in meat products. While plants may have a portion of a complete protein typically on their own, they do not have the entire protein chain. So, when eating a plant-based diet, you need to make sure to eat certain foods.

Plant-based complete proteins:

  • Quinoa
  • Quorn
  • Buckwheat
  • Soy

Combined Proteins

  • Beans and rice
  • Ezekiel bread
  • Seitan
  • Hummus and pita
  • Spirulina with grains or nuts

If you get your dietary allowance of protein, there is no reason not to enjoy a plant-based diet.

Can I reduce wrinkles with a good diet?

WebMD recommends many foods to help you reduce wrinkles. Here is a list of everything they recommend to keep your face looking younger.

  • Eat more cold-water fish for omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C which promotes collagen production.
  • Eat more protein that promotes collagen production.
  • Drink hot cocoa or eat at least 60% cacao chocolate that’s a key antioxidant that has anti-ageing properties for the skin.

If you incorporate these foods into your diet, you can see a reduction in wrinkles because of the added benefits that these foods have in fighting age-related collagen reduction and elasticity loss in the skin.