Healthy Eating Over 50
In addition to exercise, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is important if we want to maintain our good health as we get older. Good nutrition also helps us feel better in ourselves and is the best way to avoid many chronic illnesses such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems and certain types of cancers which have been proven to be connected to poor diets.
The Prime Fifty ‘Ten Commandments’ of Healthy Eating
1. Keep your Calorie Intake under Control
The average man and woman will need to eat around 2000 & 2500 calories each day respectively. This obviously varies according to size, muscle mass and also the amount of physical work one does throughout the day. However, this is a reasonable guide to start with. Eating the right amount of calories will give us all the energy our body needs for the day, but if calories are exceeded, that is where we start to put on weight….perhaps unnoticeable at first, but over months or even years, our weight will rise.
Something as simple as eating a couple of digestive biscuits each day, over and above our kcal requirements, will cause a weight gain of around a stone over a year!
It’s a simple equation and despite the many fad diets that have been spun around the world, it’s as simple as watching food intake using calorie counting.
Snacking is probably the worst habit we can have, as huge amounts of fatty and sugary calories can be eaten very quickly and if done regularly, we will put on weight. The occasional snack if perfectly fine of course, but what we must avoid is constant snacking or over-frequent visits to the local junk food outlet, as this is what will cause us long term harm. This harm is not just weight gain, but a whole host of other diseases sparked by the onset of obesity initially. This can then lead to a raft of other nutrition-related disease states such as type 2 diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure and even our risk of certain cancers including breast, bowel, cervical, prostate, endometrial, ovarian, rectal, pancreatic and oesophageal cancers.
2. Cut down on Saturated fat and also Sugar
All of us need fat in our diet. In fact, the nutritionists’ recommendation is to ensure we get around 35% fat from our total calorie intake. This is a surprise to most people, but not all fats are bad, in fact, some are essential to our health and we discuss this further down this page.
But be aware that fat is also a much more ‘calorific’ nutrient than either carbs or protein. Fat provides around 9 kcals per gram, whereas carbs or protein only provides around 4 kcals per gram, so you can see why fat can bring so many calories into our diet if we are not careful.
Of the fats, saturated fats from animal sources, is by far the worst culprit as it is well known that diets high in saturated fats will increase bad cholesterol in our bloodstream, which in turn will lead to a raft of diseases such as atherosclerosis (deposition of plaque in the arteries), high blood pressure and the possibility of strokes.
Saturated fat is found in many foods such as cakes, biscuits, hard cheese, cream, butter, lard and pies as are trans fats, which are another fat source which should be avoided where possible, as trans fats have similarly bad effects on our health.
So avoid fatty meats such as streaky bacon or low-grade cuts of lamb or beef. Avoid lard or butter when cooking and switch to more oily fats such as vegetable oils, margarine etc. Also, check the nutrition labels of all your foods as this information is widely available.
3. Eat more Oily Fish
Fish is a first-class source of healthy protein, something our bodies need daily, in order to repair muscle tissues, bone tissues, collagen, our skin, our eyes and various organs plus a whole host of other vital functions. The recommendation is to eat at least two portions of oily fish a week, not only for its protein but for its very healthy fats too.
As we said above, fats should form around 35% of our diet calories, but within that, there are particular fats called Omega 3 polyunsaturated fats(PUFA’s) which are vital for health. The most important omega 3’s are DHA and EPA which have been proven in combination to be needed to maintain normal brain function but also play a role in keeping our triglyceride(fat) levels under control in our blood, thereby having a protective effect on our heart. Blood pressure is also maintained too. A further benefit from DHA, in particular, is that of eye health where DHA intake has been proven to help with the health of our vision.
So it is easy to see why oily fish, in particular, is always being pushed as a very healthy food choice in our diet. Oily fish includes salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and herring and is a particularly healthy choice, compared to even other sources of fish, due to the high omega 3 fatty acids such as the DHA and EPA as mentioned above.
4. Eat lots of Fruit and Veg
There is hardly a person on earth that does not know this by now. The well known ‘five a day’ has been used time and time again to help us all understand that fruit and veg is a very healthy food option and one that we should actively seek out on a daily basis. But why are fruit and veg so healthy?
Most fruit and veg is full of healthy fibre, and this may come as a surprise to many of us. Also, fibre intake as we get older too is something that is necessary to help our overall gut health. Fibre helps transit through the gut, it helps with the bulk (something we need for a healthy gut) and fibre is well known to inhibit constipation too.
Many studies have shown that high fibre diets help with reduced cholesterol levels and glucose levels (avoiding type 2 diabetes). They contain high levels of a whole range of vitamins and minerals, making them a rich source of vital micronutrients.
Fruit and veg also contain a range of anti-oxidant nutrients such as alpha and beta carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin and a whole spectrum of healthy ingredients called flavonoids. The presence of flavonoids gives colour to most of the fruit and veg we eat and this is why nutritionists advise us to look for highly coloured foods. These particular ingredients are all known as ‘anti-oxidants’ and help protect the body against damaging ‘free radicals’, which are very reactive species found all over our body. It is believed that such free radicals can have serious inflammatory and cell-damaging effects if not checked.
So again, fruit and veg is a clear winner when it comes to healthy choices in our diet.
5. Eat Starchy Foods
Carbohydrates play an essential role in our diets and are our main energy source. In fact, carbs should feature as around 50% of our diet according to nutritionists.
Carbs can be eaten as sugars or as starches, the latter of which is a much healthier option due to the slower release of glucose (the breakdown products of carbohydrate) into the bloodstream. Slow glucose release is a healthier option, as it avoids spikes of glucose which can stress the need to produce insulin fast. Avoiding these insulin spikes is the best way of avoiding type 2 diabetes.
Starchy foods tend to be slower to release their glucose, as they are broken down in the gut, so this is a healthier way to eat carbs. And don’t forget that these carbs contain less than half the calories per gram compared to fat!
Such starchy foods comprise pasta, rice, potatoes, whole grain bread etc and also contain healthy amounts of fibre too making these foods a healthy choice.
We should avoid insulin spikes brought about by sugary foods and drinks and be attentive to what is on the labels, as in some cases sugar content sometimes represents the total carbs in a product and this is the type of food to avoid if possible. Most people eat and drink far too much sugar in the form of fizzy drinks, cakes, biscuits, sweets and pastries even, and not only is sugar a weight gaining substance, but it will also cause tooth decay.
6. Eat less Salt
Though some salt (as a source of sodium) is necessary for our diet, we should be eating no more than 6 grams of salt each day. This may sound a lot, but huge amounts of salt are lurking, hidden in many of the foods we buy. In fact around three-quarters of the salt, we ingest tends to be hidden within these processed foods like bacon and smoked meats, takeaways, cheese, gravy granules, some nuts, pickles, olives etc. Other foods that can be high in salt include crisps, pizzas, ready meals, soups, sausages and even breakfast cereals too.
The big problem that can be caused by salt is elevated blood pressure (hypertension), which can lead to coronary issues including atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, enlarged left heart and even strokes. So hypertension is clearly a potential killer and a high salt diet must be avoided at all costs. It should be relatively easy to do this with a simple bit of label checking before you buy. Also, try and resist adding salt to your meals.
7. Eat More Protein
Protein is essential for the body to operate properly and is involved in many functions. These include re-building muscle tissue, helping to build structure into our bones and cartilage with collagen (which is a protein). Proteins are also very much involved in building ‘functional’ proteins like enzymes and even haemoglobin in our blood.
Proteins are broken down in our gut to individual building blocks called amino acids, which are then re-assembled back into a whole raft of different functional and structural proteins. This is called protein turnover which is a basic life function and is necessary to revitalise and constantly rebuild our bodies from head to toe.
The amount of protein recommended used to be around 0.8 grams per kg per day which works out at around 60-70 grams of protein for an 80kg person. However, there is a plethora of high-quality scientific evidence now proving in trials, that as we age, we actually need much more protein than this to avoid muscle wastage (or ‘sarcopenia’). For an 80kg person, the protein intake should be nearer 100 grams or even higher in some cases. Protein requirement gets even higher than this when the body is recovering from illness or long term hospitalisation, where all the muscles have been under-utilised for long periods. It is also recognised that if we are participating in strenuous activities such as weight training, we will also benefit from eating higher amounts of protein.
But the fact is that as we get older, we start losing around 1-1.5% of our muscle mass per year, at around 45 yrs old meaning that by the time we reach 60-65yrs old, we may have lost a quarter of our muscle mass and probably also put on a bit more fat as we age. It is very difficult if ever, to regain this muscle mass that we have lost. This means that the body will be weaker and less able to perform and our balance will also suffer to some extent….and this will only continue unless we exercise and also increase our intake of protein.
Protein diets and protein shakes are not just for bodybuilders. That is an old fashioned belief and medics and scientists now accept that higher protein intake is a strategy to help avoid muscle wastage and also helps us all remain stronger and more able to avoid later life frailty.
Avoiding frailty in later life and avoiding falls, which can lead to hip fractures, can be addressed if we act now.
The highest quality protein comes from meats such as chicken, turkey, beef and pork. Also, fish protein and egg protein is also high quality, as is protein from milk, cheese and yoghurt. Proteins from some well-formulated shakes (eg Prime Fifty) contain whey protein (from milk) and brings the highest quality of protein available for muscle repair and muscle maintenance. These proteins are called ‘complete’ proteins as they contain all the essential building block amino acids.
Vegans can also benefit from higher protein diets too, but the types of proteins tend to be lower quality than those from dairy and animal sources and therefore need to be mixed in order to ensure that the protein intake is as ‘complete’ as possible ie to get all the essential amino acids necessary. Vegetarian proteins can include soy, rice, beans, nuts, lentils, quinoa, peas and there is a whole lot more from which to choose.
8. Never Skip Breakfast
According to scientists, ‘breakfast skippers’ tend to be heavier than non-skippers! This will be mainly due to the fact that these ‘skippers’ will be hungry by mid-morning and will in many cases snack. And we all know what this means…sugary, fatty food…..and additional calories with poor nutritional content! Also, fatty and sugary foods do not keep hunger away for long!
On the other hand, breakfast eaters, according to another study from the American College of Nutrition, showed that they consumed less fat and carbs than ‘skippers’ during the day. They also had a higher intake of healthy minerals and vitamins. Also, they were even found to have lower blood cholesterol levels, so helping to alleviate potential heart disease.
Many kinds of cereal (but not all so read the label) are fortified with essential micronutrients and of course, they usually contain a good serving of fibre, essential for a healthy gut, plus many other benefits such as helping to control blood cholesterol and protect against heart disease. Good quality cereals also contain protein too, which is an increasingly important macronutrient, especially for the ageing consumer, who needs higher protein intakes than normal, to help protect against muscle loss with age.
9. Drink Plenty
As we age, we tend to become more susceptible to dehydration. Our ability to conserve water becomes more difficult and also our thirst sense can become less acute.
Of course, there will be significant numbers of older people with illnesses such as dehydration, maybe kidney disease and maybe heart conditions, not to mention diabetes, and all these conditions can make us more likely to suffer from dehydration. Also as we age, our skins will become thinner and therefore this will tend to speed up losses of water via this route. Continued dehydration can lead to UTIs (urinary tract infection), constipation, confusion and even kidney failure if unchecked so avoiding dehydration is very important.
On a positive note, good hydration can assist in the management of diabetes, help prevent ulcers, constipation, urinary infections, kidney stones and our overall cognition.
Interestingly we lose around 2-3 litres of water a day from urine, but we also lose water through sweating and breathing. This needs to be replaced or we will end up with dehydration. Some water is gained from eating foods which naturally contain water, but in addition, we should aim to drink at least 1.5 litres (two and a half pints) of water every day and a little more would probably be beneficial to us!
So drink plentifully throughout the day for health benefits and also enjoy the experience of a nice glass of cold water or milk.
10. Think about Supplements
If you are healthy and are also eating the ‘perfect’ diet, then it is likely that you will get all the essential vitamins and minerals from your food and drink.
However, there is a huge amount of evidence from countless international studies on consumers’ actual diets, that many are simply not getting the recommended intakes of some of these key nutrients. Taking an appropriate supplement can help with this potential shortfall and at least guarantee that you have enough of a certain nutrient in your diet.
Also, there is a difference between what is the ‘recommended intake’ and what is perceived to be an ‘optimal’ intake ie a higher dose. Many scientific papers have been published in the journals across the world, demonstrating that some people can benefit from taking higher doses of target vitamins and minerals to help protect them from various long term or chronic illnesses. This is still a controversial area with some, but nevertheless, the evidence is widespread.
In addition, research has shown that because as we get older, our ability to absorb and utilise many nutrients actually becomes less efficient, our nutrient requirements actually increase! Also, chronic conditions and some medications can also affect nutrition needs.
According to many diet studies, some of the ‘high risk’ nutrients as we age, include protein (discussed above), omega 3 fatty acids, fibre, vitamins C, D, B2, B6, B12 and E, folate, calcium, magnesium and also potassium.
Within the Prime Fifty supplements section on this website, you can find out all about the various ingredients that we use in our carefully formulated products and also the logical reasons why we believe that these are so relevant to the ageing consumer.