There’s a certain irony surrounding ageing and diet that’s hard to ignore. As we get older we become less active, burning fewer calories and requiring less energy from food to fuel the body. However, old age is when we need vitamins and minerals from food more than ever to ward off disease, keep us healthy, and expedite wound healing, for example.
So what do we do? Eat an amount we’re comfortable with and starve the body of essential vitamins, or eat until we’re bursting, putting our organs under the unnecessary strain of extra weight?
It may seem like a lose-lose situation, but there’s a very obvious solution.By swapping out your regular meals for dishes filled with healthy, mineral-rich ingredients, you can find a good balance between fuelling your body, and satisfying your needs.
Why Do We Need to Watch What We Eat?
While there are many reasons why our nutritional needs change throughout different points in our lives, there are three primary reasons for us to start paying more attention to what we eat as we get older.
Firstly, as we age, the body becomes less capable of absorbing nutrients from food. This means that we can be eating the same sort of healthy diet that we did when we were younger, and yet getting much less from it. Some health professionals have rallied for the introduction of recommended daily allowances, or RDAs, specifically for the elderly, as we already have RDAs for adults and children, but as yet this is something that hasn’t materialised in the UK. Until it does, it’s up to us to ensure we’re taking in slightly more than the published RDAs. Don’t worry about taking too much of the good stuff naturally from foods, but if you decide to use supplements, only take the recommended dosage – there can be some nasty side effects if you take too much!
Secondly, there are some health conditions that are much more common amongst the elderly than in younger generations, such as osteoporosis (a weakening and degeneration of the bones), for example. Conditions such as this may not be able to be cured by a change in diet, but they can certainly be managed through good nutrition. Calcium is something we all know is good for strong, healthy bones, but research shows that the over 65s are taking in between 480 and 600 mg per day, when they really should be taking in 800 mg at the very least.
Of course, there’s still the issue that calcium and other vitamins and minerals aren’t absorbed into the body very easily, so what’s the solution? Meat! Well, protein, and lots of it. Protein has an anabolic effect on the body, which means it gives it a temporary boost – it helps the body produce new cells, speeds up digestion, and essentially encourages the body to act in a way it hasn’t done for years! Increasing protein intake is an excellent way to help the body absorb greater amount of dietary calcium.
Finally, some common conditions amongst the elderly can affect lifestyle choices, which can in turn determine whether or not we should be aiming to consume higher quantities of vitamins and minerals. Immobility, for example, can reduce the amount of time a person spends outside of the home, severely limiting exposure to natural sunlight – a leading source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D should ideally come from two sources – food and sunlight – so it’s important to make both dietary and lifestyle changes if you’re running low, such as increasing the consumption of Vitamin D-rich foods, such as oily fish, and using mobility aids to get outdoors for frequently.
Don’t Get Stuck in a Rut
When making the change to a healthier diet, it can become very easy to get stuck in a rut, cooking up the same meat and two veg each and every night. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that eating well will become very boring, very fast. Instead, it’s best to keep it interesting. Perhaps try new health-boosting foods that you’ve never tasted before. Consider foods such as sardines, blueberries, and cinnamon – not your average ingredients, but very healthy, and mouthwateringly tasty.