There are so many things that happen to our bodies as we age and it’s not all wrinkles and saggy skin. We also lose muscle mass and gain body fat. One reason is resting metabolism slows and you must adapt your eating habits, how much you eat, and the type of foods you eat to compensate. Changing how you eat can help offset some of the negative effects aging has on your body weight and body composition. Let’s look at small changes you can make that can help.
Change your dinnerware
As you age your metabolism slows and you require fewer calories to meet your daily caloric needs. However, most people continue to eat like they did when they were 20. At the same time, they reduce their activity level. The result? Weight gain!
The solution: Use smaller plates. This will help you get into the habit of eating less because you’ll feel full faster. It’s a psychological trick that makes you feel like you’ve eaten more food than you have. Portion control isn’t just about size — it’s also about color, texture, and flavor. Eating a variety of foods, lots of produce, and lean protein, will help keep your appetite in check without adding lots of calories and sugar.
Eat more protein
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of life. 20 different amino acids make up protein, but our bodies can produce 11 of those. The other nine — called essential amino acids — you must get from food sources.
Don’t underestimate the importance of protein. In addition to its role in supporting growth and repair, protein also plays a role in weight control and weight loss. Protein has been shown to help with weight loss for a variety of reasons:
It fills you up: Protein takes longer to digest and break down than carbohydrates or fat, so it helps keep you fuller for longer periods of time. It also creates a feeling of fullness without adding a lot of calories to your diet.
If you combine protein with strength training, it helps you build lean muscle mass, which modestly increases your BMR (basal metabolic rate), and the number of calories you burn at rest every day. The effect is modest but it all counts.
Plus, scientists now believe that people over the age of 60 need more protein to prevent muscle loss and frailty. So, include a source of protein with every meal and choose more plant-based protein sources. Plant-based protein also contains fiber that helps with appetite control.
Focus on color and variety in your meals
Eat a variety of foods from all five food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein. Eating a variety of foods makes it easier to get all the nutrients your body needs. In contrast, fad diets often restrict or eliminate certain types of foods.
Eat whole grains instead of refined ones like white bread or flour tortillas; they have more nutrients than processed grains do and are better for your heart too. Use healthy fats like olive oil when you cook instead of butter or margarine — they’re better for your heart too. Don’t forget nuts either — they’re loaded with healthy fats that will keep you feeling full longer than other snacks would because they take longer to digest in your body. Make nuts your snack of choice rather than chips or sugary foods.
Stop drinking sugar and calories
If you’re still consuming sugary beverages, it’s time to stop. They’re unhealthy at any stage of life but the extra sugar becomes even more problematic as you age. Sugar contributes to weight gain and insulin resistance and insulin sensitivity naturally declines after age 50. The more sugar you can remove from your diet the better, but sugary beverages are even more problematic because they don’t satisfy hunger in the same way food does.
Here’s the reality. Studies show that drinking only one soda per day boosts the risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Substitute water for soda or other sweetened drinks. To make it more flavorful, add herbs or slices of fruit.
If you’re looking to cut back on sugary beverages, check the labels of everything you drink. Some brands of bottled tea have more sugar than a soft drink. Look for beverages with no added sugar but be aware that sugar goes by a variety of names. Check the ingredient list for common sugars (sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup) and sweeteners like honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, cane sugar, and brown sugar.
Cook at home
Prepare your own meals at home instead of relying on restaurants and fast-food drive-throughs. If you want to stay lean after 50, prepare meals at home instead of eating out as often as possible. Restaurant foods are often prepared with unhealthy oils and contain added sugar and heavy sauces. You’ll save money and calories by making your own food — plus you’ll get the added benefit of knowing exactly what goes into each meal you eat!
Eat whole foods instead of processed foods. Whole foods are naturally low in calories but high in nutrients; processed foods tend to be an abundant source of sugar and fat but have few (if any) nutrients. Include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains like brown rice or quinoa instead of refined carbs like white rice or pasta, lean meats such as chicken breast, and fish.
Prepare meals at home. This can be as simple as packing lunches for work or making dinner ahead of time on Sundays so it’s ready in the refrigerator for when you get home from work during the week. It also helps if your kitchen is stocked with healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, so you aren’t tempted by chips or cookies when hunger strikes.
Try new recipes. Find healthy recipes online or in cookbooks and try them out on yourself or your family members to see if they enjoy them too!
It can be challenging to make the right choices when you are busy or stressed out, but it’s even more important to do so as you age. Fortunately, you don’t have to do a complete diet overall. Take small steps, tackling one at a time, until it becomes a habit.
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- “How Your Nutritional Needs Change as You Age – Healthline.” 05 Sept. 2017, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/nutritional-needs-and-aging.
- Baum JI, Kim IY, Wolfe RR. Protein Consumption and the Elderly: What Is the Optimal Level of Intake? Nutrients. 2016 Jun 8;8(6):359. doi: 10.3390/nu8060359. PMID: 27338461; PMCID: PMC4924200.
- Benton D. Portion size: what we know and what we need to know. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2015;55(7):988-1004. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2012.679980. PMID: 24915353; PMCID: PMC4337741.