Nutrition Meets Food Science

Proper Nutrition Can Ensure Healthy Aging

It was always the best time I had spent with my grandparents. Somewhere between walking with stick like dadaji & draping duppattas of dadi we would have loved to experience what life could be at their age. Now, all we plan for a secure future is good house & well settled life but are we really making it?

Nutrition plays a crucial role in all age of life with not only helping us stay healthy & fit but also fills us with positivity & good approach towards our work & other daily activities. Your most eating habits at young age influence your health life after 50’s. Following a healthy lifestyle from adolescences will make you look bright & feel right in old age; similarly a non-healthy lifestyle will make you carry with yourself tons of diseases in old age.

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What happens when you age?

As you start aging, your body tends to undergo various changes like loss of muscles, nutrient deficiencies, weakening of dentures, reduced sensory response & dementia.

Also, after a certain age your stomach lowers the production of acid which is required for breakdown & absorption of nutrients that eventually causes nutrient deficiency.

Loss of Muscle mass

Losing muscle mass & strength is most common sign of aging. In medical term, it is called as Sarcopenia. Due to lack of protein your skin looks shrunk & get wrinkles, very often you may feel fatigue after performing short physical activity.

Protein forms the framework of our body and when it is not available in required amount you are more likely to experience health issues such as hair fall, bone fractures, weakness, etc.

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Increasing deficiency of nutrients like

Calcium & Vitamin D:

These are two most important micronutrient needed for bone health among elderly. Calcium is the major component of mineralised tissues & needed for growth& development of bones & teeth. Vitamin D helps in absorption of calcium in the gut.

Unfortunately calcium absorption in the intestine decreases with age. It may be due to lack of availability of vitamin D in body to absorb calcium because of reduced exposure to sunlight.

Furthermore, calcium absorption can also be reduced in post menopausal women because of estrogen deficiency.

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Image Source: betteraging.com

Vitamin D levels are also worse affected in case of bedridden or immobilise patients hence, they may need to take oral supplements of Vitamin D in such conditions under prescription of an orthopaedic.

Vitamin B12, Iron & Magnesium:

Studies have estimated that 20% of elderly people have atrophic gastritis, a condition in which chronic inflammation has damaged the cells that produce stomach acid.

As a result of low acid production in stomach, absorption of nutrients is affected leading to deficiency of many vital nutrients.

Anaemia is now becoming more common in old age group. Around 80% of the elderly population is suffering from anaemia. Increasing number of chronic diseases & iron deficiency are common cause of anaemia. It can also be caused due to folate & Vitamin B12 deficiency, gastrointestinal bleeding & myelodysplastic syndrome (Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) are a group of diverse bone marrow disorders in which the bone marrow does not produce enough healthy blood cells.)

Loss of vital senses:

Eye sight, hearing power, and many other active sensory organs has been observed to become weak earlier after 60 but now because of poor diet & malnutrition it can be seen at quite young age.

The urge to drink water is regulated by thirst receptors located in hypothalamus of brain. Aging may sometime weakens these sensitive receptors which is really a matter of concern. It means elderly are more prone to dehydration. So, you must make sure to drink at least 10-12 glasses of water to stay hydrated all day.

Decreased appetite

Another common problem in old people is poor food intake. You might feel full by eating very little food while continuing this habit for prolong period may lead to unintentional weight loss & nutrient deficiencies.

Also, studies have shown that older adults have lower level of hunger hormone ghrelin & higher level of fullness hormones cholecystokinin & leptin.

Other factors that could cause poor appetite in older adults can be changes in hormonal levels, poor sense of smell & taste or any life circumstances like loss of spouse, family breakups, financial crisis, etc.

Now, after coming across all the negative changes that occurs in old stage, how can one try to overcome it & manage to live healthy & fit in their old times? The only answer to it is change. A slight change in their eating habits, change in eating patterns, changing routine activity, behaviour, likewise little habits.

Lifestyle management:

When we talk about changing lifestyle many questions comes in our mind, few of them makes us scared too. Fortunately, lifestyle change is simply a little modification & positive effort towards betterment of our life in all aspects.

Moreover, following a good lifestyle is much needed in old age because old age is linked with many deficiencies & diseases.

Following a good diet

There is a saying “We are what we eat”. So, eating good comes on top of the list. Eating a well balanced diet is very important in old age to reduce the chances of nutrient deficiency & other health risks. You must eat food having good quality protein, vitamins, calcium, potassium, iron & many other essential nutrients.

Eat less calories & more protein

Why less calories? Because after 50, body requires minimum energy as there is less physical activity& more sedentary life. If you eat high calorie food it will turn down into fats in your body more commonly near abdominal (belly) region which is undesirable & may lead to further health complications.

Carbohydrates should comprise 50-60% of your total caloric requirement where as only 20-25% of the calorie should come from fats.

Lean meats, poultry, fish, low-fat dairy products and vegetable oils are preferred sources of fat.

Cachexia is medical term referring severe loss of muscle & adipose tissue. It is more common in people over 50 years of age. It is recommended to include high protein foods in your diet to repair the muscle loss & strengthen joints & bones.

High fibre

Dietary fibre has been proven to have beneficial effect in prevention of heart disease, stroke & some cancers. Also, it helps body relief from constipation which is quite common problem among elderly. One must try to eat at least 30-35gms of dietary fibre every day.

Calcium

Aging man & woman both need to take extra calcium through the diet. Dairy products are chief sources of calcium. Other good sources includes some green vegetables e.g.; broccoli, kale, turnip greens, Chinese cabbage, tofu, legumes, seeds e.g.; sesame seeds, nuts & certain fortified food products.

Women after menopause should eat foods rich in calcium to get around 1500mg/day which is prudent to reduce the rate of demineralisation of bones & decrease chance of fractures later in life.

Vitamin D

You can get abundance of vit D by sunlight. Take a long morning walk to get a good exposure of sun. You can also get vit D through animal sources like fortified milk, salt water fish & fish liver oil, red meat.

Supplements

Although diet helps you in reaching nutrient sufficiency, sometimes, for people with poor appetite supplements are prescribed by doctors to ensure good nutrition& speedy recovery.

Staying physically active

Physical activity will help you stay fit, healthy & energetic all day long. It also helps to attain mental strength, positivity& independence as you get old.

Get started with a low intensity exercise for example brisk walk, jogging, playing any outdoor games like cricket, badminton or doing power yoga, floors or maybe just a walk on treadmill.

It is not always just exercise, but many experts believes that keeping a positive attitude towards life already reduce 50% risk of any disease that’s what we say“ a healthy outside, starts from inside”!

Image by EduCarvalho from pexels

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Abir Ansari

Jr. Nutritionist, PFNDAI

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