Improve your nutrition as you age

The importance of eating healthily as we start to age

When we age, there are many changes, including nutrient deficiencies and inadequate dietary intake, that can have a profound impact on our nutritional status. This can start to increase the decline in both physiological and psychological functions that occur as we age.

Studies indicate that many older people produce less stomach acid. Having low stomach acid can affect the absorption of the nutrients that we eat. Stomach acid is hydrochloric acid, or HCl, and is vital for absorption of iron. 

These are some of the major nutrients that can decrease as we age, including:

B12

It is estimated that up to 20% of people aged 50 and over may be low in vitamin B12. This deficiency can become worse as people age, yet it is commonly overlooked until it causes significant health problems.

Low levels can result in:

  • Anaemia - this means that we have a low red blood cell count. Red blood cells carry oxygen in the blood, so anaemia can cause fatigue or shortness of breath. 
  • Neuropathy - this means that the nerves in our bodies are not working as well. This can cause a variety of symptoms, including tingling, numbness, burning, poor balance, and walking difficulties.
  • Cognitive impairment - this means that the nerve cells in our brain are not functioning to their full capacity. This can cause memory problems, irritability, and even dementia.

Calcium and vitamin D

Alongside the changes to stomach acid enzymes, a change in diet or a loss of appetite, coupled with less exposure to sunlight, can also lower levels dramatically. In the elderly, the skin produces four times less vitamin D when exposed to the sun, as compared to younger people.

Also, a decrease in the efficiency with which our kidneys can retain the calcium will lead to increased calcium loss in the urine.

Iron 

Iron-deficiency is the second most common cause of anaemia in older people. The main causes of iron deficiency in this age group are blood loss, nutritional deficiencies, medications, cancer therapies, and poor absorption.

Inadequate intake or inadequate absorption of iron can occur in older adults who have poor diets, do not eat much meat, or who have low levels of stomach acid.

Taking medications that reduce stomach acidity, which is common in older people experiencing reflux, etc, will lower our ability to absorb iron. Also, excessive alcohol intake and thyroid imbalances, amongst other things.

Magnesium

Being low in magnesium is often overlooked. Symptoms can include heart irregularities/palpitations or flutters, twitching eyelids, depression, digestive problems, muscle spasms and nightly leg cramps, memory problems, and depression.

Lower calorie intake

We also experience a reduced need for calories. Energy requirements start to decline after the age of 50 for woman and around 60 for men. However, our need to consume the same amount of vitamins/nutrients does not.

This means that the importance of a nutrient-rich diet with the correct vitamins and minerals is paramount. So, older adults need to get just as much, if not more, of some nutrients, all while eating fewer calories.

As we age, we may need fewer calories to maintain our weight, since we tend to move and exercise less and carry less muscle.

If you continue to eat the same number of calories per day as you did when you were younger, you could easily gain extra fat, especially around the belly area. This is especially true in post-menopausal women, as the decline in oestrogen levels seen during this time may promote belly fat storage.

Are you eating enough protein... or maybe too much?

Eating the correct amount of protein can help your body to main muscle mass and strength (sarcopenia) as you age. Did you know that the average adult loses 3-8% of their muscle mass each decade as they age?

Changes to our gut health

Age also affects our gut microbiota, changing the types of good and bad bacteria that are present in our tummies. This can mean that our gut becomes less protective and supportive of your health. This can lead to something known as a 'leaky gut'.

What you eat can have a strong impact on your gut microbiota. Eating foods that already contain natural pre-biotics such as garlic, and taking a multi-strain probiotic, can help to improve this. Do you understand your calorie/energy requirements? Are you eating enough of the right nutrients? Contact a professional to find out more.

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Hayley Smith ANutr, MASC(Eating disorders/CBT), Dip (Sports Nutri), BA Hons Psy

I am a Registered Associate Nutritionist. I work as a Weight Management & food-wellness coach at Springfield Hospital Chelmsford and my home clinic near Great Dunmow Essex.

My specialisms include:

Help with Weight Loss
Healthy Eating
Sports nutrition
Reducing inflammation & Gut Health
Lowering blood sugar & cholesterol levels
Eating disorders… Read more

Written by Hayley Smith ANutr, MASC(Eating disorders/CBT), Dip (Sports Nutri), BA Hons Psy

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