Planning Dietary Health to Age Well

Planning Dietary Health to Age Well

It is no secret that we are an aging society. It's not just that we are having less children, but also because we live much longer, with average expectancies now almost at 80. That has resulted in a whole new set of problems to be addressed. Given that aging varies based on genetics, we must look to aspects of our health that are more modifiable if we are to make improvements.

None of these are more important to aging well than diet and lifestyle.

So the question becomes:

How do we change our habits to ensure we are healthier as we live longer?

Research clearly shows that how we eat and how we live mediates our life span. It may seem obvious to say it, but good choices are central to good health. When it comes to nutrition, how well we feed our bodies governs how well we develop in early life, and how well we mature in later life. The right foods can not only boost your wellbeing, but also slow your aging.

Now it should be reiterated that we are dealing here in generalities precisely because individual physiology is so varied. Health is a complex confluence of physical wellbeing from fitness, diet, chronic issues, and mental disposition. Science does not know everything about aging yet, but we do know some things that have impacts. Using the following as a guideline provides a good foundation.

Eating well to age well.

I have written in previous posts about the importance of dealing with oxidation and oxidative stress for longevity. While we have decades of research on diet and aging, the fact that our environment continues to be increasingly toxic and stressful on our bodies and minds, has complicated the conversation. Nutrition now needs to work harder to deal with these burgeoning stressors.

Suffice it to say that fighting off free radicals that cause oxidation is fundamental to healthy longevity. Foods that supply high amounts of anti-oxidants are more important than ever. Rather than rehash it, check out this post on pomegranate, an example of the food to embrace and why antioxidant-rich food is so critical. The general rule is it's all about color. Foods rich in colors like red, purple, green, etc, are high in the kinds of phyto-compounds that work best at staving off free radicals and promoting youthful vigor.

Another key factor in aging is metabolism, and, amongst other things, it has a significant impact on your dietary needs. As we age, our metabolism slows, we lose muscle, we inevitably move less and less, and so we must consume less calories while still acquiring essential nutrients. This means that quality is now the focus. Maintaining good health, energy levels, and not gaining weight is all about choosing the right foods in the right amounts (and of course, moving as much as possible, as often as possible.)

So to plan a proper diet for aging well, we are forced to be more judicious in solving the equation of eating less calories but getting sufficient nutrition. There is value in conventional wisdom that says we should eat minimally processed, whole foods -- fruits, vegetables, proteins, while avoiding salt, unhealthy fats, and sugar.

But what do we need to focus on most for cellular health and proper aging?

Firstly, protein is more key than ever. Even though the RDA for protein is set at one amount for all adults, research suggests strongly that more protein per body weight is needed as we age because we are losing muscle and bone mass. Getting plenty of lean protein into your diet is critical, especially when you add the fact that protein is also helping with injury recovery. The key is lean! White meat poultry, egg whites, fish, and beans are the best sources. Fatty fish are especially good choices as omega fatty acids play a very important role in aging health. (Try to get 3 servings per week.)

Moreover, one of the key vitamins for healthy aging is B12. While there are many sources of B12, studies show that these lean protein sources afford greater absorption for the elderly. Nutrient absorption can often be an issue as we age due to the frequent occurrences of stomach conditions like gastritis which make it harder to absorb foods, as well as the ubiquitous use of drugs (even the ones that deal with the stomach issues can inhibit B12 absorption.)

Probably the most well known requirement would be vitamin D and calcium for bone health. Surveys suggest that around 15% of the population has low bone density. Aging adds another dimension, as our ability to convert sunlight to vitamin D declines increasingly. Furthermore, as we age, kidney and liver function also decline, which makes it even harder for the body to activate and utilize vitamin D. The real dilemma stems from the fact that vitamin D is central to defense against chronic illnesses, so low levels can be devastating. Sunlight as well as dairy products can supply us with proper amounts, but we age means we need higher doses.

Folate is another B vitamin that is associated with healthy blood supply, and which often becomes deficient with age. Potassium is important for bone and cell health. Magnesium is critical to heart, bone, immune, and energy health. These all decline with age but are more crucial than ever.

From an overview perspective, there is re-occurring theme. Absorption levels of key nutrients drop while requirements rise, so it is often difficult to get sufficient nutrition from food alone. Again, choices are so critical.

So what are examples of good choices?

As we sort through the list all specific requirements for age health, answers re-occur:

Eat colorful whole foods full of antioxidants, key nutrients, fiber, lean proteins, healthy fats, and drink plenty of water and get sufficient sunlight.

At this point, there is a very real justification for supplementation in our diets.

However, here is where I tend to differ from many mainstream approaches. I do not buy the multivitamin approach. It's just too shotgun and inefficient and evidence shows no real benefits. Even isolated nutrients are sometimes a second-rate approach unless you know your health landscape. Once you have had tests and discovered any deficiencies in your diet, or your doctor has identified specific requirements, then you can make targeted, smart choices with vitamins and the like. Choosing the right health supplements is even more critical as we age, but I am convinced that a whole food supplement designed to provide complex nutrition targeted to the above-mentioned requirements is the smarter approach.

I personally take our daily greens vegetable supplement and our resveratrol, fruit complex, and in one fell swoop, I have boosted intake of all the key foods research tells us are critical to ensure healthy aging. Any high quality greens or fruits complex that has been properly prepared can be very useful to age health. The main consideration is bio-availability, so as long as non-heat air drying is used, these supplements really can be an excellent choice and I am convinced make a better general dietary adjunct than multi-vitamins.

As I said, these are general rules and approaches that will serve everyone well, but they should be discussed with your doctor if you have any health issues, are already taking any drugs, or are making any significant changes.

Obviously I have been focusing on diet for this post, but lifestyle is just as important. Here is an article on the benefits of exercise and healthy lifestyle choices on aging. It all comes down to educating ourselves so that we make the right choices to keep our bodies robust and youthful as we age.

Related Posts: 
The Importance of Being Alkaline - Know Your pH ! 
For the Love of Food, What We Eat Can Heal
4 G's for Anti-Aging: Garlic, Ginger, Ginseng & Gingko

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The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.

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