BODY CHANGES

Why your nutritional needs change as you age

Aging is linked to having a thinner skin, muscle loss as well as less stomach acid

In Summary

• Aging is linked to a variety of changes in the body including thinner skin, muscle loss as well as less stomach acid,” Wangari says.

• Dehydration comes with harsh consequences for older people by reducing fluid in your cells, increasing fatigue and worsening medical conditions

Image: Courtesy: Better life

Good nutrition is important, no matter your age but finding the best food and nutrients can be tricky.

According to Nanyuki based Nutritionist, Wincate Wangari, eating healthy becomes important as you age because aging is linked to a variety of changes in the body and nutrients are absorbed differently.

The changes, which include nutrient deficiencies, decreased quality of life and lifestyle choices as well as poor health are some of the changes that affect our health.

“Aging is linked to a variety of changes in the body including thinner skin, muscle loss as well as less stomach acid,” Wangari said.

With less stomach acid there is poor digestive activity.

This means that food and nutrients can't be broken down, they sit in the stomach and cause bacteria to build up hence increased digestion problems.

Also associating aging with decreased activity which slows down their metabolism, Wangari says that with age, people need to eat less but ensure they eat highly nutritious foods.

“Years of research has indicated that maintaining a nutrient dense diet has a huge effect on physical condition, bone health, vascular function and the immune system,” she said.

However, this is challenged by the fact that as people age, they lose appetite as well as the way they taste or smell; which can lead to more limited food choices.

A recent report on nutritional concerns for aging populations also shows that low income, mobility constraints as well as the general decline on oral health and reduced ability to swallow also affects the food choices and intake.

Veggies and fruits
Veggies and fruits
Image: Courtesy:Pinterest

Wangari briefly described the role of other macronutrients, namely omega-3 fatty acids and fiber, in maintaining health during aging.

“Foods high in fiber like fruits, veggies, oatmeal, nuts and legumes can help with constipation which becomes more as you age,” she said.

“Dietary fiber which can also be found in whole grains are important for maintaining intestinal health as well as heart diseases and metabolic conditions.”

Raw salmon
Raw salmon
Image: Margaret Wanjiru

Epidemiological studies have found that higher intakes of omega 3 fatty acids provides great protection against many conditions but can be very limited in the standard diet.

Some of the main sources include fatty fish, flax seeds, cashews, pistachios, pecans, almonds and walnuts.

“These crunchy snacks contain special nutrients that can help delay or prevent age-related heart disease, stroke, nerve diseases, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. Nuts also protect your brain as you age which reduces the cognitive decline,” she said.

Sources of Vitamin E
Sources of Vitamin E
Image: Courtesy: Lovandy.com

The vitamin E found in nuts, plant based oils, seeds, fruits and green leafy vegetables is important in vision, reproductive health as well promoting a healthy blood, brain and skin.

The recommended daily amount of Vitamin E, is 15 milligrams per day according to mayo clinic because it is essential to the central nervous system.

“Apart from a weak immune system, Vitamin E deficiency can cause nerve and muscle damage that results in loss of feeling in the arms and legs, loss of body movement control, muscle weakness, and vision problems,” she said.

Chili, red and yellow peppers at city market in Nairobi
RED AND YELLOW PEPPERS Chili, red and yellow peppers at city market in Nairobi
Image: Margaret Wanjiru

Eating more red and orange coloured produce has also shown to lower the risk of some certain types of cancers and may protect you against stroke.

“Watermelons, moderate tomatoes, red and orange bell peppers, apples, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, mangoes, strawberries and papayas are high in vitamin A, C, K and potassium,” Wangari said.

Foods rich in potassium; bananas, avocado, sweet potatoes, yams, white beans and white potatoes may help prevent muscle and nerve damage, muscle weakness, constipation as well as fatigue.

Bananas
Bananas
Image: Margaret Wanjiru

Studies show that the antioxidants in avocado could improve your memory and help you solve problems faster. Avocados may also lower your cholesterol, cut your chance of getting arthritis, help you stick to a healthy weight, and protect your skin from sun damage.

“Do you know that you’d have to eat 23 cups of cooked broccoli to get as much vitamin A as you’d find in one sweet potato,” she said.

“Combining a rich protein diet and resistance exercise could  help reduce the age-related muscle loss and strength.”

Sweet potatoes in a pressure cooker
Sweet potatoes in a pressure cooker
Image: Courtesy: Pinterest

Vitamin B12 is  essential for making red blood cells and maintaining healthy brain function.

Unfortunately, studies estimate that 10–30% of people over age 50 have a reduced ability to absorb vitamin B12 from their diet. Over time, this could cause a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Benefits of the B vitamins
Benefits of the B vitamins
Image: Courtesy: Dr jokers

Animal foods such as eggs, fish, meat and dairy are a good source, but should be eaten in moderation.

“Remember to hydrate because your body constantly loses water, as you age the receptors found in your brain becomes less sensitive and it becomes harder for them to detect thirst, this may lead to dehydration,” Wangari said.

“Unfortunately, dehydration comes with harsh consequences for older people by reducing fluid in your cells, increasing fatigue and worsening medical conditions, that is why it’s important to drink enough water daily,” she added.

 

Edited by B. Oruta