Nutrition and aging: A two-way relationship

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With so much hype in the media about miracle foods and nutritional supplements, one is tempted to look for a single, food-based magic bullet that will increase the chances of living a long, healthy life.

“Unfortunately, the rate and way we age depends on a combination of our genetic makeup and lifelong lifestyle behaviors.”

Alice H. Stanley N. of Nutrition Science and Policy, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Lichtenstein. Professor Gershoff

“Our diet, physical activity levels, how much sleep we get and whether we use tobacco products all have an impact,” says Lichtenstein, who is also senior scientist and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Team at Jane Mayer USDA Human Nutrition. Aging Research Center (HNRCA) at Tufts. “Although we can’t control our genes, the data clearly show that people who follow a healthy lifestyle do the best within each genetic risk category.”

A handful of nutrients are key to that healthy lifestyle, said Lichtenstein and Diane McKay, assistant professor at the Friedman School, director of the Friedman School’s online graduate certificate program and formerly a scientist at HNRCA.

MyPlate for older adults-; USDA’s MyPlate on HNRCA is designed to align with the federal government’s Food Group recommendations; Pay attention to the unique nutritional and physical activity requirements associated with advancing years, Lichtenstein says.

For example, he says, older adults need fewer calories to maintain a constant body weight because of a change in body composition from muscle to fat—; Yet they need the same, or for some, slightly more, essential nutrients. This means making smart, nutritious choices within each food category. It’s also important, especially in hot weather, to ensure adequate fluid intake and not rely solely on the sense of thirst, which can dull as we age.

Ultimately, Lichtenstein says, the solution is unlikely to lie with taking nutritional supplements. The benefits from a healthy dietary pattern cannot be duplicated by popping a pill.

“It’s important to follow a dietary pattern that emphasizes vegetables and fruits — especially those that include dark meats, whole grains, legumes, low- and fat-free dairy products, fish, nuts and seeds and, if you choose to eat meat, poultry and lean meats. Focus on cutting,” says Lichtenstein. “It’s also important to replace major sources of saturated fat, typically from meat and dairy, with unsaturated fats like soybean and canola oil, and limit products made with salt, added sugar, and refined grains.”

“One way to achieve this goal is to prepare as much food as possible at home and avoid highly processed foods that are high in salt, sugar and/or refined grains,” she adds. “At any stage of life, achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is important for optimal health outcomes.”

“Excess body fat is associated with a higher risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers,” says Lichtenstein. “Important lifestyle behaviors that can reduce the risk of chronic disease include regular physical activity, avoiding exposure to tobacco products, getting enough sleep, and managing daily stress.”

Does what you eat now affect aging later?

Research suggests that what a person eats in their 20s and 30s can influence the diseases and conditions they may develop as they age, which in turn determines how many years they will live healthy lives.

It is also important to be aware of the changes in our bodies as we age and to respond to the different nutritional needs that we have as we age.

“Some people may feel that there’s little point in adjusting their diet or losing weight if they haven’t eaten particularly well or if they’ve been overweight or obese most of their lives,” says McKay. “But research shows that adjusting at any age can improve both your overall well-being and your ability to reduce your risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Also, it’s important to know how your nutritional needs change as you age, and your age. Try to meet those needs to be as healthy as possible.”

“That’s why it’s important to conduct nutrition research across the life cycle, and why we educate patients and health professionals about how what we eat affects our health throughout our lives,” he added.

Vitamin D and calcium at all ages

For example, getting enough calcium and vitamin D in one’s teens and 20s is key to avoiding osteoporosis later in life, McKay says. It is also important for those who are vegetarians or vegans of any age.

Although vitamin D and calcium supplements are valuable as we age, “our teenage years and 20s are the peak years of bone mass development,” McKay says. “After you reach age 30, bone mass begins to decline. Yet many teenagers and young adults drink more soda and less milk. Those who are vegetarian or vegan are also at risk of not getting enough calcium and vitamin D, as well as other vitamins.” It is important to ensure that these individuals are getting enough vitamin D and calcium at a young age to build bone mass to avoid bone fractures and osteoporosis as they age.”

McKay says studies also show that teenagers who consume high amounts of fruits and vegetables are less likely to develop age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts.

Adjusting nutrition to age-related body changes

Changes in our bodies and our lifestyles also affect what we should eat as we age, McKay says.

As we age, our muscle mass begins to decline; Not just in places we can see like our arms and legs, but also in our heart muscles, gastrointestinal tract and other parts that control our daily body functions. Regular exercise, including resistance training, becomes more important to keep all the muscles in the body in the best shape possible.

“As the digestive system slows down, we need enough fiber from real food sources each day to keep food moving through our system. Most Americans don’t meet recommendations for fiber intake,” adds McKay. “We make less stomach acid, so vitamins like folate and iron aren’t absorbed as well. Our ability to absorb vitamin B12 in particular—which is important for brain health—is also reduced.”

Vitamin B12 is found in animal-based proteins. “Levels should be monitored regularly as we age. A B12 deficiency can lead to deterioration of the myelin sheath, which insulates nerves, and if not caught and treated, can lead to permanent brain impairment,” says McKay.

The ability to sense thirst decreases with age, making the elderly more prone to dehydration. Consciously and regularly consuming water, skimmed milk and foods with high fluid content-; Whether a person feels thirsty or not; That’s why it becomes more important.

The function of our kidneys, liver and pancreas also begins to decline as we age. The pancreas produces insulin and glucagon, which regulate blood sugar levels. Being overweight can lead to insulin resistance-; And with age, the pancreas already produces less insulin, resulting in type 2 diabetes.

“As we age, our liver’s ability to process the fats we eat and make in our bodies becomes less efficient, which, in turn, can affect levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) and low-density lipoproteins. . LDLs),” says McKay. “At any age, excess saturated fat in one’s diet increases the production of cholesterol in the liver and subsequently increases circulating LDL levels in the blood.

Alcohol at any age

A gradual decline in liver function means that older adults do not process alcohol as efficiently as they did when they were younger. “Alcohol consumption is a risk at any age,” McKay notes. The problem for young people is traffic accidents or other risky behaviors. Older adults may not realize they can’t drink as much as they once did, increasing their chances of falling or driving while impaired.

Although research at various points over the past few decades has suggested the potential health benefits of alcohol consumption, McKay says there is clear evidence that alcohol at any level lacks significant positive effects on health. On the contrary, there is clear evidence that excessive consumption can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease and digestive problems, as well as breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver cancer. colon, and rectum.

“One drink per day is the most that older adults should drink,” McKay recommends. “And if you don’t drink, no matter how old you are, don’t start.”

Changes in smell, taste and life circumstances

As a person ages, the senses of taste and smell also decline, often due to medications they are taking, which can reduce overall appetite and enjoyment of food. Flavor enhancement becomes more important to keep food interesting. Using more spices to replace salt and more liquid vegetable oil to replace butter and mayonnaise and spreads low in saturated and trans-fat can keep foods tasty and healthy.

Dental problems can make it more difficult for older people to eat certain foods, such as corn on the cob or chewing meat, requiring additional adjustments to how the food is prepared.

As people grow older, they find that loved ones have died and they are cooking for one person instead of family. Feelings of isolation and depression creep in, making people not want to cook or eat nutritious food. Reduced income or being housebound due to chronic illness can also make it difficult to shop for nutritious food and eat well.

“Older people may choose more prepackaged foods with limited nutritional value. They grab fast food off the grocery shelf and can’t or won’t read nutrition labels to find the best options,” says McKay. “While it is possible for seniors to eat highly fortified foods like breakfast cereal to get the vitamins and minerals they need, it is important that they focus on foods that are low in sugar and made with more whole grains to stay healthy longer.”

Fruits and vegetables that are frozen, pre-peeled fresh or dried, as well as low-sodium and low-sugar canned options are also good choices. They’re easy to prepare, affordable, have a long shelf life and contain as many or more nutrients than their fresh counterparts, Lichtenstein says.

100 and what it takes to survive

Overall, there are many positive lessons scientists at Tufts and elsewhere have learned from studying people who have lived to be 100 or older and are still healthy, McKay said.

“These people ate a mostly whole-food, plant-based diet that was moderate in calories. Physical activity was a constant in their lives, and they continued to include walking and other forms of exercise in their daily activities as they aged. And they continued to have important social activities in their lives. To stay connected,” McKay said. “It’s not a magic bullet. There are many that will affect how well and how long you live.”

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