The problem with getting older is that it requires so much effort! One would think things would start to slow down at this stage of our lives. Sadly, the only ‘things’ slowing down are our bodies while life seems to continue at a warp speed! If somebody knows when it’s likely to slow down, could you kindly let us know so we can get off the merry-go-round?
Who remembers those merry-go-rounds that we used to play on as kids way back when? When life seemed slower, and we got to spend a lot of time in the sun. Before all the health and safety rules came in, fun equated to spinning around at top speed, not a crash helmet or disclaimer. Do you remember what it felt like when you stepped off it? As you wobbled about trying to find your bearings and balance again, you probably didn’t consider that this is precisely what the aging process would feel like.
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What our Bodies Need
The struggle to control one’s weight, bone strength and overall health can leave you feeling exactly how you felt when you stepped off that merry-go-round. If felt off-kilter and very much out of control as you rush along towards old age at breakneck speed. That’s why it’s such an excellent step you have taken to slow this process down by strengthening your body. However, we need the added support of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. As we age, our bodies require a balance of these to avoid health problems that can further be impacted by brittle bones, poor muscle strength, and cognitive impairment issues.
We’ll let you in on a secret. The aging process is a sneaky light-footed thief that pounces when you least expect it, and suddenly you find yourself dealing with a body that definitely wasn’t the same one you went to bed with the night before! However, before you start popping supplements in wild abandon, this is the mistake most people make. While taking supplements to boost your vitamin, mineral and nutrient intake is beneficial, they are not a replacement for good food nutrition. Food is essentially the fuel we use to energize and promote the health of our bodies. Just as you wouldn’t put fizzy drinks or cooking oil into your car, hoping it would run as smoothly as it would on petrol or diesel.
So, you shouldn’t fill your body with nutritionally-empty foods in the hopes it might get the nutrients it needs. Chances are you won’t break down on the side of the road like your car, but your health will undoubtedly suffer due to poor eating habits. Supplements are by design meant to supplement a healthy diet and help correct any nutrient deficiencies. If used on their own, they only supply a particular nutrient.
Supplements vs Food Example
Many people pop vitamin C supplements in the hopes of boosting their immune systems. This is okay, but the supplement can only provide one thing, vitamin C. However, eating foods high in vitamin C such as green peppers or broccoli, provides your body with vitamin C and additional vitamins and minerals. These include phytonutrients, potassium, protein, fiber, healthy calories and water (fluid). Thus, broccoli is packed with additional benefits compared to the actual vitamin C supplement. This comprehensive approach to nutrition is why healthy foods are still essential when taking supplements. Furthermore, the number of supplements you would need to consume to reach a good nutrient balance would be veritable truckloads. To be honest, a juicy burger with all the trimmings would probably be more beneficial and a lot tastier!
The basic formula for those of us on the other side of 50 is:
Nutrient-rich food + Supplements + Exercise = a younger, healthier body and mind.
Essential Vitamins and Minerals for the 50+
As we age, our bodies become nutrient deficient, and it’s only through healthy eating in conjunction with supplements (if required) that these deficiencies and other age-related issues can be avoided. This section will focus on the minerals, vitamins and nutrients required for men and women over 50 and which foods and supplements to incorporate into your diet.
Several factors accelerate the loss of this mineral as we age; these include low calcium intake, medications affecting calcium absorption and diseases such as osteoporosis. In addition, men over 70 and women over 50 require approximately 20% more calcium than their younger adult counterparts.
Calcium promotes the healthy functioning of blood vessels, muscles, nerves and cells. Your body obtains calcium from your bones which absorb it from the food you eat. Foods high in calcium such as milk, cheese and yogurt are excellent for boosting your calcium intake. Calcium deficiency affects women, in particular after menopause. Fluctuating oestrogen levels during menopause reduce bone density as calcium levels are depleted. Women over 50 should focus on eating foods high in calcium and consult their doctor about taking a calcium supplement to increase their calcium levels further.
Vitamin B12, found in animal products such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy, promotes red blood cell production. This vitamin benefits the body by improving memory, boosting energy and preventing heart disease. It’s also particularly beneficial for men over 50, preventing a loss in libido. Fatigue and depression impact the libido dramatically and can be directly linked to a deficiency in Vitamin B12. Age-related conditions such as atrophic gastritis can make it difficult for the body to absorb B12. This can be further impacted by antacids, weight loss surgery and certain medications.
Vitamin D aids with muscle, nerve and immune system functions. It is often advised to take vitamin D alongside calcium as it helps with calcium absorption. If you take calcium but have a vitamin D deficiency, your body won’t absorb the calcium efficiently. Exposure to the sun is a good source of Vitamin D, but unfortunately, our skin becomes less efficient at creating the Vitamin D we need as we age. In addition, other factors such as agility, clothing and sunscreen contribute to low vitamin D levels in both men and women. Fatty fish, mushrooms and egg yolks are good sources of vitamin D.
This vitamin enhances chemical reactions in the body’s immune system, helping it function optimally and efficiently against germs and illness. Eating foods high in vitamin B6 will protect your body against infection. Unfortunately, low levels of B6 in older adults are often the cause of poor immunity. Vitamin B6 is excellent for balancing hormones in both men and women. It also helps with protein metabolism and energy production. In addition, high levels of B6 have been linked to improved memory in older adults! Foods such as fortified breakfast cereals, chickpeas, liver and fatty fish (Salmon, tuna, sardines, trout) are excellent sources of Vitamin B6.
This mineral is found in leafy greens, nuts and seeds and helps the body regulate many functions such as protein synthesis, blood glucose control, blood pressure, and energy production. Unfortunately, as we age, we are more susceptible to health issues such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. This can be further exacerbated by low levels of magnesium in the body. Furthermore, long term health issues and some medications can leave your body in short supply of this function-supporting mineral. Foods rich in magnesium include oats, chia seeds, spinach, almonds and dark chocolate. Yum!
The body cannot generate omega-3 fatty acids on its own and relies on us obtaining these essential and very beneficial fats from plant and animal sources. Omega-3s are crucial for human health regardless of age, but they become even more critical the older we get.
These beneficial fats can reduce age-related inflammation, enhance brain health and stave off dementia or Alzheimer’s and reduce the risk of certain cancers. Further benefits include reducing the risk of insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes) and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol. Foods that contain Omega-3s include chia seeds, sardines, salmon, pumpkin and walnuts.
This macronutrient is vital for immune and metabolism functions. In addition, it promotes healing and fights off infections, which is crucial for our older bodies. However, it is not found naturally in the body and is obtained via a varied diet and supplements. Zinc is beneficial to men over 60 as it maintains prostate health and testosterone levels while promoting sexual health. It's also thought to prevent or treat baldness and minimize cold symptoms. Zinc deficiencies are often seen in older women who have gone through menopause. It’s thought their increased calcium intake compromises their zinc uptake, causing a zinc deficiency. Excellent foods containing zinc are fortified cereals, beef, crab and oysters.
Selenium is a mineral found in the soil, water and certain foods. As humans, we only require a small amount, but it plays a vital role in preventing age-related illnesses such as dementia, certain cancers and thyroid disease. However, please don’t overdo it with selenium, as it can cause your hair to fall out and your nails to become brittle. Brazil nuts are a good source of selenium but only one or two nuts a day is sufficient!
Potassium is both a mineral and an electrolyte involved in all bodily functions, from regulating your heartbeat to protein synthesis. As an electrolyte, it helps conduct electrical impulses in the heart and muscles. Often the first signs of a potassium imbalance are fatigue, heart palpitations and muscle cramps. However, you should consult your doctor if you experience these symptoms to rule out the possibility of more severe conditions. Potassium can also protect against high blood pressure, stroke and osteoporosis. If you want to boost your potassium intake, include bananas, whole milk, spinach and yogurt into your diet. Please consult your doctor before taking a potassium supplement, as it can negatively impact certain blood pressure medications.
Vitamin B9 / Folate
Vitamin B9, or folate, naturally occurs in many foods. It aids in cell growth while protecting against certain cancers and stroke. The aging process puts both men and women at risk of developing heart disease. Folate (folic acid) lowers this risk by reducing blood pressure and improving blood flow (heart health). Aside from benefiting our heart health, it also protects us from premature aging! Folic acid also contributes to younger skin, reducing the formation of wrinkles and the production of premature aging stress hormones. In addition, by boosting our metabolisms and enhancing nutrient absorption, folate helps us feel fabulous inside and out. So we say, ‘move over’ to the fountain of youth; vitamin B9 is staging a takeover! To boost your vitamin B9 intake, include the following foods in your diet: Spinach, beets, avocado, broccoli, beans, asparagus, chickpeas and black-eyed peas.
The Importance of Fibre
While neither a mineral nor a vitamin, fiber is essential to our health. This is even more evident the older we get, as it helps us avoid specific pesky medical issues such as constipation and diverticulosis. But more than keeping us ‘regular’ fiber can also reduce the risk of high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. Older adults require more fiber with age. Typically, an adult requires 14g of fiber for every 1000 calories consumed per day.
After age 70, this fiber quantity increases as follows:
Men: 30 grams of fiber for every 1,800-2,200 calories
Women: 21 grams of fiber for every 1,300-1,600 calories
These values depend on how physically active you are and if you have any medical conditions. Consuming plant-based foods can help you reach the fiber levels your body needs. Your diet should be varied and consist of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains and legumes. However, to boost your fiber requirement, you should aim to include foods that provide at least 4 grams of fiber per serving. This high fiber content can be found in green peas, black beans, kidney beans and wheat bran.
There are two types of fiber to consider, soluble and insoluble fiber. Both types are required for a healthy fiber intake. Here are some examples:
Insoluble fiber: barley, wheat germ, turnips, beans, raspberries,
Soluble fiber: Oat bran, apricots, oranges
Whether you decide you need to up your intake of specific vitamins, minerals, or fiber, we advise that you get them from your diet rather than a supplement. Furthermore, as you were reading, you may have noticed that many foods provide multiple vitamins and minerals, thus providing numerous benefits compared to the single advantage of a specific supplement. Therefore, a varied diet filled with delicious vitamin boosting foods infused with minerals and nutrients is the best action to take against any deficiencies you may have.
Vitamins and Supplements
However, if you are worried you are not getting enough from the foods you eat, it may be time to consider taking a supplement. This is best discussed with your doctor, who can advise which supplements are safe to take in conjunction with your current medications and health requirements.
Life can be amazing after 50, especially when you're physically able to enjoy it. Make this the healthiest time of your life!