Unfortunately, most people are associating “healthy eating” with restrictions, diets and cutting out all the foods you love.
Most of the time we are told that we are eating too much especially if we are carrying too much weight or want to lose weight.
The problem is that most people today are actually “over-fed” and “under-nourished”. (1) and that many chronic diseases could actually be prevented. Undernourishing could already start as early as childhood when most people actually tend to “get away with it”. This is usually due to the fact that cells are able to repair and regrow quickly when we are younger. However, in the long run, children who are not getting sufficient nutrients will later in life notice the consequences.
I don’t want to go into the REALLY bad diet of highly processed foods and lack of vegetables that some children eat, as this luckily still applies to a minority.
However, being under-nourished can also happen if you are eating a relative “normal” diet that includes only the occasional processed foods and takeaways, and that does include fresh vegetables and home-cooking.
Being undernourished becomes especially more prevalent as we age, and it’s not always the case that our diets have become worse.
It is because our bodies require more nutrients but at the same time fewer calories.
It has been shown that one way to slow down ageing and inflammation in our bodies is through calorie restriction and fasting. (2)
Obviously, don’t decide to stop eating! While I am a big fan of fasting, I am trained in this topic and want to stress that it is not for everyone and you need to know what you’re doing and do it in a safe environment.
However, accepting that we should eat fewer calories, it is also vital to recognise that a calorie is not a calorie.
As we are consuming fewer calories, we are automatically consuming fewer nutrients. If half of your calories however consist of white bread for example then, which has absolutely no nutritional value, there is very little room left for you to get your vitamins, minerals, proteins and good fats and phytonutrients that your body actually needs more of as you age.
By the way, I find it quite interesting that during Victorian times people actually ate about twice as many calories as we eat now and their life expectancy was in fact similar to today’s, however, the incidence of degenerative disease was only 10% of ours. They simply had more physical activity, less alcohol, no processed foods and many more of the recommendations that we now call “healthy” eating, were simply the norm back then.
If you like to read more about this, you need to read this scientific paper. If you could use what they did back then as recommendations we could certainly improve the public health of today. (3)
Number 1 Take-home-message:
- Make every calorie you eat count.
- Do not eat empty calories.
- Only put food into your body that will keep your body nourished, and does not do any harm.
- Do not eat for a minimum of 12 hours every day to give you body a rest. (Best done not to consume calories between dinner and breakfast, but check with your health care practitioner, if you have any underlying health condition)
The second item I like to cover is nutrient absorption. As we age, our stomach acid decreases which means it is harder for the body to digest food. If you are on prescribed PPI which also reduces stomach acid, this might be even worse.
If your food is not digested properly, it can cause all sorts of issues going along the digestive tract. You could experience bloating or cramping in the stomach area soon after eating. You could experience a sensation of excessive fullness after eating. You could even experience heart-burn like symptoms even though there is very little acid present. As the undigested food moves further down, it could sit in the small intestine and start getting fermented there, or further down where it could cause more bloating, belching and cramping.
Worse of all, it might impact how many nutrients you can actually ABSORB from the foods you eat. You might be eating a good enough diet, and yet not absorb your nutrients due to lack or low stomach acid. Especially B12, the energy vitamin, requires stomach acid to be absorbed.
Getting these sensations of “indigestion” often leads older people to eat even less as they are afraid of the symptoms that follow when eating something that is already harder to digest such as a steak for example.
Or they tend to eat foods that are easily digested such as white bread, white pasta, and white rice. These foods might fill you up but they don’t have any nutritional value.
Number 2 – Take home message:
- Make sure you are digesting your food properly.
Should you experience low stomach acid or/and low digestive enzymes there are certain foods that can stimulate stomach acid and enzyme production such as bitter foods like rocket, chicory, and radishes. Apple cider vinegar is also great to help digest your food properly. You can also take specific supplements to help, but as always it is important to discuss this with a health care practitioner. There is a variety of supplements out there but depending on your previous health and especially gastro history, you need to know exactly what you can take and what not.
- Eating mindfully and chewing your food properly becomes also absolutely vital. You might have been able to get away with swallowing down your sandwich in 2 seconds in your lunch break when you were young – this is now an absolute no-no!
Our dietary requirements definitely change as we age and there are many scientific publications to show this. (4)
It is also important to realise that certain medications (and statistically older people take more medication) can interfere with the absorption of nutrients. As mentioned above, taking a PPI (to stop heartburn) can interfere with Vitamin B absorption. Taking a statin (for high cholesterol) can interfere with the production of CoQ10 which is necessary for energy production. They also reduce our absorption of good fats that are vital for brain health.
Antibiotics interfere with the absorption of all B-Vitamins which are involved in energy production which is why you might feel tired when on antibiotics, but they also diminish our good gut bacteria and interfere with the absorption of many other vital vitamins and minerals.
PLEASE NEVER STOP TAKING ANY PRESCRIBED MEDICATION THOUGH – I am just writing this to create awareness and to suggest that you might benefit from extra vitamins or minerals when you are on these prescription medications.
Some supplements however can interfere with your prescription medication, therefore it is absolutely vital you check everything with your GP AND your healthcare practitioner.
Which nutrients to you need more of as you get older?
To remain fit and active, it is vital to keep your muscle and bone strength as you age. It will get harder to build new muscle as you age and your muscles will waste quicker if you stop exercising. Your body needs protein for many vital functions and if it does not get the protein from food, it will look to use its own protein = your muscles. However, if you signal your body that you need your muscles through exercise this is less likely to happen.
However, it is more vital than ever in your life to eat adequate amounts of protein, and it’s important that it is good quality protein, i.e. not from processed meats such as sausages, bacon, cured ham etc.
It is also vital that we get sufficient amounts of good quality fats. While we want to restrict calories, we need to be careful not to go “low-fat” . Fat is important for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, E, and D, all of which play an important role in our immune system. We need fats for our brains to function optimally. And we need essential (the word says it all!) fatty acids such as Omega 3 for brain health, joint health and also because it has anti-inflammatory properties.
What do you need less of?
Definitely less sugar! Sugar is not only devoid of any nutritional value, it is also a vitamin robber – especially Vitamin C. Vitamin C as we all know is important for our immune system, but also plays a role in many other functions such as the absorption of iron (for energy) and to build collagen (important for skin and joints). And there seems to be a lot of studies that suggest sugar is involved in the building up of plaque in both your arteries and in your brain – thus making you more susceptible to getting Alzheimer’s.
Alcohol: Yes, of course, drinking red wine has some health properties and can be very relaxing. Having a glass with your friends can be a very social evening that also contributes to your health. (Did you know that being lonely can take as many years off your life as smoking?)
But – your liver needs to work harder to process alcohol, and that means your liver is too busy dealing with alcohol that it can’t deal with other toxins. And these other toxins then could get “recycled” and enter back into your bloodstream. There is some evidence that oestrogen dominance and the likelihood of breast cancer being increased with increased intake of alcohol. But we are exposed to so many toxins these days that are cancerous and don’t pose a problem to our bodies as long as our liver can detoxify them.
To summarise – and probably nothing new to any of these recommendations:
- As you age, eat fewer calories
- Make every calorie count, don’t waste it on junk food that has no nutrients
- Eat more good quality protein
- Eat more good quality fats
- Eat more vegetables
- Eat less or no sugar
- Eat less or no processed foods
- Drink less alcohol
- Eat mindfully and chew your food properly
- Be mindful of how medication can interfere with your nutrients
If you have any questions regarding this article, send me an email or book your health & energy review call with me and I hope I can clarify some of your questions.
Otherwise, I hope you found this article helpful, and you will be able to implement some of the recommendations I gave you. Don’t try everything at once. One step at a time, and remember even the tiniest bit you do will contribute to you being a healthier (and happier) person. And you know where to find me to get the support if you need it. Everything is easier when you do it with someone else.
- The double burden of malnutrition: aetiological pathways and consequences for health – PubMed (nih.gov)
- The Potential of Calorie Restriction and Calorie Restriction Mimetics in Delaying Aging: Focus on Experimental Models – PubMed (nih.gov)
- How the Mid-Victorians Worked, Ate and Died – PMC (nih.gov)
- Nutritional needs of seniors – PubMed (nih.gov)