Should your diet change after turning 50? - Healthy Living Association

Should your diet change after turning 50?

Researchers agree our diet should change to fit our lifestyle. Just as a kid needs smaller portions than adults, as we get older it’s important to adapt our food intake to our new needs. Things like a slower metabolism, less physical activity and changes in our physiology mean people over 50 have slightly different nutritional needs than younger adults. Here’s what science says about it.

Body changes after turning 50

Humans now live longer than ever, and we’re encountering different health challenges as a result. According to statistics and scientific research, age is decisive factor when it comes to chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, cancer and cognitive decline.

Researchers now know that three factors influence the appearance of these health conditions: physical inactivity, smoking, and diet [1]. Luckily, those are things in your control!

How your diet should look like as you age

Aging is a natural process that puts stress on our bodies in a different way. This affects every system, and in turn our food intake should change accordingly. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic recommend to follow these general guidelines:

  • Limit refined and processed foods. These add unnecessary fats, sugar and salt to your diet [3].

  • Moderate your liquid calories. It’s easy to go overboard with the calories if you don’t really feel like you’ve eaten that much. Plus, calorie-heavy drinks don’t fill you up for long, so you’ll end up hungry in less than an hour. Watch out for juices, alcohol and fizzy drinks.
  • Stay hydrated. Did you know around 75% of Americans are dehydrated? [2] We tend to confuse thirst with hunger, or simply don’t like plain water. If that sounds like you, set up a reminder on your phone to drink one or two cups every few hours. You could also try to add flavor to your glass with some lemon juice, ginger or mint leaves.
  • Eat more whole foods: try to make whole foods the base of your diet. Just focusing on healthy fruit, veggies and lean protein will help you manage many problems related to aging.
  • Add probiotics: having healthy gut flora is essential for overall well-being at all stages of life, but especially as we grow older. Our gut helps the body regulate the immune system, can affect your mood and energy levels. Eating proper amounts of healthy prebiotic fiber is a good step towards a balanced gut microbiome, but adding probiotic-rich foods like kefir, yogurt, kimchi and pickles will replenish your good microbes. Check out our gut microbiome review here.

On top of these general suggestions, here’s what a healthy diet for 50-year-old adults and above should look like:

1.      Eat enough protein

As we age it’s normal to sit more and move less. Lack of consistent physical exercise and natural aging cause muscle loss, which researchers call sarcopenia [5]. After you turn 30, you start losing around 5% muscle mass a year. To fight this, you need to use a combination of medium-intensity exercise and diet.

When increasing your protein intake, it’s important to consider both the total daily amounts, and the sources. As a rule of thumb, eating 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for active adults, considering 1 kg= 2.2 pounds. That results in around 0.7 grams of protein per pound.

On the other hand, a recent study found that the sources of your protein intake mattered as much as the amounts. In this light, prioritizing white meat -poultry and fish- is best as part of a healthy diet to prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer [3]. In contrast, higher consumption of red meat -pork, lamb, beef and processes meats- were associated with a higher incidence of certain cancers. That same study found people over 50 eating a ratio of 4-portions of white meat or vegetable protein for every portion of red meat had a lower chance of suffering from chronic conditions.

2.      Have complex carbs

Carbohydrates are an essential component of a healthy diet, but we should be careful about going overboard. In general, people over 50 should focus on having a good mix of complex carbohydrates and try to limit the amount of refined carbs like white bread.

Try to consume a variety of vegetables and fruits, particularly those with bright colors and smells. Those have a higher ratio of healthy antioxidants, which can fight aging signs [3]. Doctors recommend having at least 5 portions of vegetables per day. Experts also consider fruit a separate item, so you should aim at around 4 portions a day [1].

On the other hand, the more fiber in your carbs, the better. According to a 2002 study [3], a higher fiber consumption was linked to lower risk of cardiovascular events. However, keep in mind the link to a lower cancer risk is still unclear and is currently under further study. Aim for around 15 grams of cereal fiber a day.

3.      Fats in moderation

Even though they get a bad reputation, lipids are both filling and nutritious. In fact, fats are essential to jumpstart a series of physiological processes that allow our bodies to function [3].

As a rule of thumb, try to limit trans and saturated fats present in margarine, vegetable shortening, fried foods and red meat. In contrast, choose foods higher in unsaturated fats and omega-3 and -6 like olive oil, nuts, seeds and fish.

Dried nuts in particular are great sources of healthy fats, but it’s important to be aware of healthy portions. For example, one portion of almonds is one small handful, or 23 almonds. If you munch mindlessly, it’s easy to go overboard! The same goes for olive oil: too much of it can lead to unnecessary weight gain, so try and measure your portions.

Key Micronutrients to Watch Out for If You’re 50+

On top of having a balanced macronutrient intake, it’s important to have an adequate intake of specific micronutrients. These compounds round up a healthy diet and also make up for certain deficiencies that come up as we age.

  1. Calcium: this is especially important for those with a family history of osteoporosis, and women in general. According to the mayo clinic, 1 in 3 women over 50 are at risk of bone breakage due to osteoporosis [4]. As your body ages, it has a harder time absorbing calcium from the diet while our ability to tolerate dairy diminishes. In spite of this, women still need 1,200 mg of calcium a day to stay healthy. To fulfill your requirements, add non-dairy calcium sources like fortified orange juice, and increase your leafy greens intake. Avoid calcium supplements, because they can increase your chances of having kidney stones [7].
  2. B12 vitamin: if you’re not eating enough of this vitamin, you could be putting your cognitive health at risk. To make sure you’re having enough, either take it as a supplement or make sure you add eggs, fish and fortified foods to your diet.
  3. Folate: also known as folic acid, a healthy folate intake is related to a lower risk of cancer and coronary heart disease [1]. Adults over 50 need 400mg of folate per day. Luckily, you can find it nuts, enriched cereals, spinach, beef liver and brussels sprouts. It’s important to eat between 3 and 4 portions of folate-rich foods a day in order to fulfill your daily requirements.

Micronutrients are fairly easy to fulfill if you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet. Another good option is adding a multivitamin to your daily routine, since they generally pack everything you need to round up your intake.

How does your diet compare to the ideal 50+ intake? Let us know below!

References

  1. Dean, M., Raats, M. M., Grunert, K. G., & Lumbers, M. (2009). Factors influencing eating a varied diet in old age. Public health nutrition, 12(12), 2421-2427. Available here.
  2. Survey of 3003 Americans, Nutrition Information Center, New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center (April 14, 1998)
  3. McCullough, M. L., Feskanich, D., Stampfer, M. J., Giovannucci, E. L., Rimm, E. B., Hu, F. B., … & Willett, W. C. (2002). Diet quality and major chronic disease risk in men and women: moving toward improved dietary guidance. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 76(6), 1261-1271. Available here.
  4. 3 diet changes women over 50 should make right now. Mayo Clinic. Available here.
  5. Harvard School Of Public Health. Preserve your muscle mass. Available here.
  6. Harvard School Of Public Health. The Nutrition Source, Fats And Cholesterol. Available here.
  7. Calcium supplements tied to kidney stone risk. WebMD. Available here.

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