The Importance Of Nutrition And Protein As We Age
As much as we don’t want to admit, we are all going to grow older. Our health may start to decline, picking things up gets more difficult and walking up and down the stairs isn’t something that is as easy as it used to be. Aging is something that is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer for it. There are food and lifestyle changes that we can do to make the aging process happen more smoothly and hopefully prevent certain health conditions from forming in the body. So, who else is on board for that?
The Muscular System And Aging
As the body ages, it is normal for the muscle tissues to reduce in size and strength. This is because the skeletal muscle fibers become smaller in diameter and blood flow throughout the body tends to become slower, meaning less blood gets to the muscles. This process is called sarcopenia and unfortunately, begins at the young age of 30.
Because of this, the muscles do not contract as well as they used to, making it more difficult to strengthen the muscles and keep the same endurance as when the body was younger. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t regularly exercise. It can be delayed, and symptoms can be less severe if you have a workout regimen.
Additionally, collagen production slows down as we age causing the cartilage and connective tissues in joints and muscles to become thinner and less elastic. When the muscles are less elastic, it can lead to Fibrosis which makes muscles less flexible and range of motion can decline. When the connective tissue in joints are effect they can be more susceptible to damage and less supple. Eventually, this can cause the joints to not slide over each other as well and lead to Osteoarthritis.
How Protein Can Help
Lately, it has become more and more popular to talk about the importance of protein in an elderly person’s diet and for good reason. Protein can help with building lean muscle mass which leads to more weight on the bones and can stimulate bone density. Plus, protein also helps the absorption of calcium into the bones.
Unfortunately, protein intake is often low in elderly people for a plethora of reasons. Over time, their appetite starts to decline, they can’t tolerate certain foods, or they have gotten into a routine of eating only what they like and don’t want to change it! Another reason may be that they live in homes where they don’t make their own food choices, or if they do, protein can be more expensive than foods with carbs and fat.
How Much Protein Should You Be Eating?
Normally, it is recommended to consume about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. However, experts are saying that seniors should increase their protein intake to 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight to avoid any of the symptoms listed above.
Most elderly people get protein at dinner time but tend to eat lighter earlier in the day. However, it is recommended to consume some source of protein at breakfast and lunch to ensure protein needs of the day are met.
If you are caring for an elderly person, we don’t recommend they drastically change their eating habits overnight to include more protein. Instead, discuss with them the importance of protein and how it can help them in the long run and decide which protein sources they are willing and able to eat!
Where Should You Get Your Protein From?
Here at LFLC we believe in consuming whole, natural foods to prevent disease, support current health conditions and live as healthy as you can. It’s no different when it comes to protein sources. The best forms of protein can come animal sources such as chicken, turkey, beef, eggs, dairy products and fish. These are considered a complete protein because they have all essential amino acids. However, that does not mean that you should only consume animal-based proteins. Plant-based sources such as beans, lentils, quinoa, rice, nuts and seeds should be added to the diet because they are nutrient-dense and tend to be digested better in the body. This can come in handy with seniors whose bodies can’t handle meat-heavy meals.
It is common for the elderly to consume packaged shakes and high-calorie drinks that are made to replace meals because it ensures they are eating something. This may be good for convenience purposes; however, most can contain some unwanted additives and unnatural ingredients. If they do prefer to drink a meal instead of eating it, try making homemade smoothies instead with some plant-based protein sources such as chia or hemp seeds!
A high protein breakfast or snack for the elderly may be some greek yogurt topped with chia seeds and berries. Hard-boiled eggs and cans of tuna are also great options. A great easy-to-eat high protein lunch or dinner may be a soup made with chicken and variety of vegetables!
Other Important Nutrients
Don’t go around thinking that all you have to eat is more protein to age gracefully! There are other nutrients that are essential to make the aging process go more smoothly.
Vitamin D helps carry calcium into the bones. When you don’t have enough vitamin D, bones may become brittle and break easier. Seniors tend to stay out of the sunlight more often than younger people which is why many are deficient in vitamin D and have osteoporosis. To avoid this, ensure that your diet is full of vitamin D from the sun, eggs or fish!
This also means that calcium is very important for the aging process. Calcium is stored in the bones so when the body is not getting enough from food sources, it will take calcium from the bones which can make them weaker and more fragile. The best food sources of calcium are almonds, sesame seeds, collard greens and broccoli!
Iron is another important nutrient for healthy aging because it is the main component of red blood cells. Iron absorption tends to slow down as we age which is why many elderly persons are low. To prevent this come happening, it is recommended to consume iron-rich foods such as red meats, beans or lentils. To help with absorption, consume these types of foods with vitamin C food sources such as red pepper, citrus or strawberries.
Like iron, vitamin B12 absorption can decrease as the body gets older causing many people to be deficient. The body needs a certain protein to absorb vitamin B12 and if it isn’t making that protein, your body can’t absorb it. B12 is only found in animal foods such as meat, eggs and dairy so this is a popular vitamin to supplement with. However, don’t start supplementing unless prescribed or recommended by your doctor!
Getting older doesn’t need to be scary. But don’t wait to take care of your health, even if you are currently over 50 – the time is now to get healthy!
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