Healthy Eating As We Age

February 7, 2023

It’s finally February! Is it just us or did January really drag on this year? As we talked about last month, we focussed on a slow start in January to reset after the intensity of the festive period. Jon was travelling a lot, whilst I spent time chilling at home, avoiding booze, walking the dog, and catching up on Netflix.  

For those of you who have been following me for a while, you will know that in all thing’s health related I try and focus on making small changes, as I know they add up to big changes. When it comes to diet or, as I prefer to call it ‘healthy eating’ this is definitely the right approach. Crash diets and extreme eating plans have been around way longer than I have, and we know that they just don’t work. Especially not in the long term if losing weight is your goal, and definitely not from a health perspective. 

So what is an extreme diet? Normally these types of diets are simply starvation wrapped up and sold to us in a pretty bow. They tempt us with the idea of dramatic weight loss in a short time by simply restricting our calorie intake, but they rarely work and they often can have a hugely negative impact on our health. Ironically one recent study (1*) found restricting calories raised the body’s levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that tells the body to hang on to fat, particularly round the belly!  Other diets that have proved popular recently include low carb/high fat diets, which force the body to burn fat for energy instead of carbs. These often seem to work well at the short term, but any initial weight loss is mostly water, and as they are highly restrictive, they are difficult to stick to, meaning weight gain nearly always happens long term. One of the most worrying side effects of extreme diets is that they can often lead to malnutrition. The liquid diets that were hugely popular in the 70’s and the trendy juice diets we see today both focus on restricting calories, but in the process the dieter also restricts the levels of fibre, protein, and other important nutrients they consume. Without sufficient nutrients and energy from calories over several weeks or months, our bodies switch to survival mode and automatically our metabolism starts to slow, holding on to every fat cell it can. It can also lead to cognitive difficulties, bone and muscle loss, organ damage and potentially heart failure! 

So as we age it’s more important than ever to look after your body and to eat healthily. Limiting ourselves in any way nutritionally is a really bad idea, instead there are a few healthy and sustainable changes to our diet and lifestyle that can help us stay in the best possible shape long term. Here are my top tips for healthy eating as we age:

  • Eat more complex grains - Swapping refined breads and pasta for complex carbs and grains such as brown rice, oats and quinoa will help keep you fuller for longer and the fibre will help keep you regular.
  • Eat more fish – As we age we are more susceptible to chronic illnesses like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and dementia, but we can lower inflammation which contributes to these illnesses by eating more omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. If you are vegetarian, you can find omega-3 in walnuts and chia seeds. 
  • Eat less salt – High consumption of sodium can raise the risk of heart disease and hypertension in old age. Try and use herbs instead of salt to flavour your food. 
  • Eat more protein – As we age we lose muscle and therefore increasing our protein intake is really important. It also helps keep us fuller for longer, so should help you stop snacking. Go for lean protein such as chicken, turkey or fish, or plant based options like tofu and lentils.  
  • Increase your calcium – After the age of 50 we are at a higher risk of osteoporosis as our bone density reduces, so it’s really important to increase our calcium intake. Great sources include milk, cheese and leafy greens. 

Jon and I already eat a pretty balanced diet, but this month we are also joining the Zoe programme that uses advanced tests and cutting-edge science to help understand how our bodies work so we can reduce dietary inflammation and improve my gut health naturally. I am fascinated by gut health and the role it plays in our overall health – so make sure you are following me on Instagram where I will give you an honest account of my experience and how it changes my eating choices.

Sally & Jon x