Contributed by Haley Burress
As we age, our bodies change. This isn’t exactly news. Chances are, you feel your body changing when you notice creaky joints in the morning or squinting to read your dinner menu. When it comes to food, it is important to note that our body changes the way it absorbs and uses what we eat and drink. The more you know about how your diet and nutrition changes as you age, the better you can eat to increase energy and health. Here’s a look into your body and how diet and nutrition shift dramatically as we add on years.
1. Hydration gets tricky.
We all know that hydration is an important part of diet and nutrition, no matter our age. However, as we get older, it can be trickier to maintain your body’s hydration needs. Medication is often the culprit for decreased water or fluid intake. Certain prescriptions have a diuretic effect, which means that the body is flushing fluids away quickly. This effect is exactly what the medication is made for, but it can take a toll on overall hydration. Aging adults might voluntarily decrease water intake because of the extra trips to the bathroom or they might not be taking in enough to keep the body hydrated.
Hydration is important to anyone, but especially to older adults. Dehydration can lead to acute confusion or urinary tract infections, which are almost always a sure trip to the hospital. In order to combat dehydration, make sure that your diet and nutrition is matching your body’s need for fluids. Drink plenty of water, stay away from alcohol and caffeine, and focus on foods that are high in water content. Try slices of cucumber or watermelon, as well as grapes and celery. Bottoms up!
2. Metabolism takes a hit.
You may have noticed that you can’t eat that extra brownie without noticing the effects on your waistline, unlike in your 20s or 30s when you could eat more without buying a new pair of pants. It’s not your imagination. Unfortunately, metabolism slows dramatically as we age. Even worse, our metabolism starts a slower speed as early as our 30s. A slower metabolism means that you can put on weight quickly if you are not vigilant about eating whole foods that are low in calories. Indulging in your favorite foods is fine in moderation, but you might have to put that second brownie down unless you want to pay the price.
3. Tastes change.
Does your favorite recipe taste a bit different? Do you find yourself thinking that restaurant food is a little more bland than usual? As you age, your taste buds have difficulty detecting taste the same way. Instead of grabbing your salt shaker, try cooking with different spices to add a bit of extra flavor. Typically, the taste buds that are responsible for sweet foods are not affected by age. This could explain why you have gotten a sweet tooth in your later years. Use this sweet tooth to your advantage by snacking on healthy, sweet fruits and veggies. You can taste these foods better and you’ll be able to steer clear of cookies and cakes (because of that slow metabolism, remember?).
4. Vitamins aren’t absorbed the same.
Your body changes the way it absorbs vitamins and minerals from your foods as you get older. This means that you might not always get the full benefit of the foods that you are eating. To be sure that you are still getting an appropriate dosage of vitamins that assist with the effects of aging, such as D and B-12, talk to your geriatrician about starting supplements. B-12 can help with a slowing metabolism and naturally increase energy output!
5. Changes in the rest of your body.
Aging bodies can affect your overall nutritional health as well. Loose or ill-fitting dentures, or other teeth issues, can cause a decrease in food intake and subsequent weight loss or malnutrition. Gastrointestinal issues brought on by medication side effects or other causes can cause a decreased appetite or cravings for foods that aren’t nutritionally sound. Low vision or confusion caused by Alzheimer’s or dementia can lead to less time in the kitchen preparing meals or forgetting to eat a meal at all. Be sure that you are asking for help if you need it, or having an honest conversation with your aging loved one if you are concerned.
The more you know about how your nutritional needs may change as you age, the better you can plan your meals accordingly. Remember, you are what you eat, so eat for energy and for overall health!