Your nutritional needs changed after you turned 50, and now it’s increasingly important for you to prioritize healthy eating in order to get the nutrients your body needs to thrive.
The aging process is linked to various changes in the body, including muscle loss, decreased stomach acid, and reduced ability to recognize hunger and thirst.
These changes can lead to nutrient deficiencies and a decreased quality of life.
To prevent deficiencies and other age-related changes, it’s crucial to eat nutrient-rich foods and consider taking supplements.
Improving nutrient deficiencies will not only help prevent disease, but it can also improve the appearance of your skin and your overall youthfulness.
The Aging Dilemma: Fewer Calories Required But More Nutrients Needed
One challenge of aging is a reduced need for calories, which can create a nutritional dilemma.
Mature adults need just as much, if not more, of certain nutrients while at the same time, they also need to consume fewer calories.
In essence, this means that the calories you eat must be healthy for your body and dense with nutrients.
You might need to consider swallowing pills that are dosed with advantageous nutrients.
You probably also need to eat a variety of anti-inflammatory foods that are higher in protein.
Why Is Protein Important for Someone Over 50?
Aging is linked to muscle loss and weakness, known as sarcopenia.
Eating a protein-rich diet and resistance exercise can help fight sarcopenia and maintain muscle mass.
Science has established that those older adults who consume more protein lose 40% less muscle mass than those who consume less – and protein supplements, such as whey isolate, may also slow the rate of muscle loss and increase muscle mass.
What Happens During the Aging Process?
The human body undergoes various changes as it ages that impact its need for nutrition. Some of these changes include:
- Muscle Loss – The average adult loses 3-8% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. This loss of strength can lead to fractures, poor health, and weakness among mature adults. Eating a protein-rich diet and engaging in resistance exercise can help fight sarcopenia and maintain muscle mass.
- Decreased Stomach Acid – Around 20% of elderly people have atrophic gastritis, a condition in which chronic inflammation has damaged cells that produce stomach acid. Low stomach acid can affect the absorption of essential nutrients such as vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and magnesium. This can lead to deficiencies and poor health outcomes.
- Reduced Ability to Recognize Hunger and Thirst – As we age, our bodies may lose the ability to recognize hunger and thirst signals. This can lead to unintentional weight loss, poor nutrition, and dehydration.
- Hormonal Changes – Postmenopausal women may experience an estrogen decline, which can promote belly fat storage.
Due to these changes, older adults have different nutritional needs than younger adults. They may require fewer calories to maintain weight but may need just as much or even more of certain nutrients.
What Nutrients Do I Need and Why?
An adult over 50 has to pay closer attention to nutrient needs than someone who is 30.
This means eating a variety of whole foods – including protein-rich foods, fruits, vegetables, fish, and lean meats to maintain good health with each passing year.
Nutrients that become especially important as you age include:
- Protein – As you lose muscle mass with age, it’s important to consume enough protein to support muscle growth and repair.
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is important for maintaining strong bones.
- Calcium – Calcium is essential for maintaining bone density and preventing osteoporosis.
- Vitamin B12 – Vitamin B12 is essential for the production of red blood cells, the proper function of the nervous system, and DNA synthesis.
Additionally, a multivitamin can help fill any missing gaps in your diet and provide essential nutrients that may be lacking in certain foods. In recent years, nutrient depletion in farm soils has increased the odds of people developing malnutrition in developed countries.
The Best Foods to Eat for Nutrient-Rich Diets
To meet your nutritional needs, including those nutrients listed above, it’s recommended to eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-rich whole foods:
- Vegetables – Vegetables are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Eating a variety of vegetables can help you get the nutrients you need. Try to include a variety of colors in your diet, as each color group contains different vitamins and minerals. Dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, are especially nutrient-dense.
- Nuts and Seeds in Moderation – Nuts and seeds are an effective source of healthy fats, protein, and essential vitamins and minerals. They should be used moderately because they’re quite high in calories. Try to include a variety of nuts and seeds in your diet, such as almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and sunflower seeds They can be a good snack or addition to salads and other dishes. Peanuts and flaxseeds can be problematic for some people. Peanuts have mold and lectins that sometimes inspire an inflammatory response, and flaxseeds can sometimes create an estrogenic response.
- Grains and Legumes in Moderation – Grains and legumes (beans) can be an excellent source of fiber, B vitamins, and other essential nutrients. Try to include some whole grains in your diet, such as oats and quinoa. Rice can help you feel fuller longer, but for many people over 50, three times a week might be enough for grains unless your physical activity level is unusually high. Also, keep in mind that legumes can be high in lectins and might inspire an inflammatory response in some people, so don’t think of them as an everyday food. Also, consider avoiding flour made from wheat, you probably don’t need the extra calories or gluten.
- Fruits in Moderation – Fruits are packed with beneficial phytonutrients! However, they’re also packed with sugar, so enjoy them in moderation and try to eat a variety of fruits (and not just the same fruit every day).
- Lean, Free-Range Meats – Animal protein isn’t for everyone, but it is loaded with vitamins and minerals. Avoid meat that has been fried. Grass-fed and free-range red meat such as bison or beef tend to have a more advantageous profile of omegas than meats that have been commercially mass-farmed.
- Protein Powders (for people who are physically active) – A blender can be your best friend in the fight to get adequate protein. Whey protein isolate (the “isolate” is important as it is higher-quality and more easily digestible) and plant protein powders made from fermented pea, hemp, and rice can be beneficial. Some people find soy estrogenic, so you may want to avoid having soybean too often.
- Fermented Foods – Fermented foods can be helpful to your gut biome (the beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract that benefit your entire body in a multitude of ways). Yogurts can be good, especially dairy-free cultured coconut milk. If your body doesn’t mind dairy, you might also try Kefir. Sauerkraut and Kimchi are popular choices. And Kombucha (a bubbly drink) has become quite trendy in recent years. Apple cider vinegar offers many advantages (see sources below).
Eating a protein-rich diet, engaging in resistance exercise, and considering taking a supplement can help maintain muscle mass, fight sarcopenia and meet nutrient needs.
Supplements should be taken with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare professional because taking too much of certain nutrients can be harmful.
When you diet, it’s even more important to eat healthy foods because you have fewer opportunities to ingest vitamins, minerals, and their cofactors. This is yet another reason that mature adults need to regularly consult with healthcare professionals to make sure they’re on the right track nutritionally.
Overall, eating a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and taking supplements as needed are important steps to maintaining vibrant health as we age. It is also important to consult with healthcare professionals to have an individualized approach to these nutritional needs.
Additional Sources on Nutrients:
Depletion in Soils – https://chriskresser.com/depletion-of-soil-and-what-can-be-done/
Cautions and Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar – https://examine.com/foods/acv/research/
Malnutrition Plays Key Role in Frailty – https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/13/9/3163
Protein Intake and Body Composition in Mature Adults – https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-022-02894-y