Eat for your age

You are what you eat, as the saying goes. And as we get older, nutrition becomes ever more important. The older you get, the more important nourishment becomes, as your body becomes less efficient at extracting and absorbing key nutrients from food. Even though you can’t stop the natural process of ageing, you can choose the best options to support your body throughout.

For most, the first place we see wear and tear is through the skin. Are there certain foods that can help our skin stay elastic and supple? According to researchers, yes. What you eat can soften age-related wrinkles and fine lines, sun-related skin damage, and other skin problems. Your skin (and the rest your body) relies on a steady influx of nutrients to build a strong barrier against toxins, and fend off damage from environmental assaults.

Essential nutrients
Certain nutrients become more important as you age. These include:

  1. Calcium is crucial for building and maintaining strong bones. “Even though you attain your peak bone mass in your early 20s, a healthy diet with plenty of calcium is still vital to your bone health later in life,” says Cape Town-based endocrinologist, Dr Zane Stevens. If you come up short on calcium, your body will leech it out of your bones, and weaken them. This can increase your risk for brittle bones and fractures. Keep your bones from breaking with milk, broccoli, spinach, sardines, and almonds.
  2. Vitamin D. You know that calcium is important for the health of your bones, but so is Vitamin D. This often overlooked nutrient helps your body absorb calcium, maintain bone density, and prevent osteoporosis. It’s also been shown to protect against diabetes, heart disease, and cancer – all of which are more likely to creep in with age. Good sources of Vitamin D are fatty fish (salmon, mackerel and pilchards), and fortified cereals, dairy products, and juices.
  3. Potassium can help keep your blood pressure in check, and lower your risk for age-related hypertension. According to an article published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, high intake of potassium can reduce the risk of stroke in hypertensive women over the age of 40. Get your daily dose with fruits and vegetables. Bananas, plums, sweet potatoes, spinach, and avocados are especially high in potassium.
  4. Magnesium. Mighty magnesium is important for every organ in your body, especially your kidneys and heart. It helps maintain normal muscle, nerve and heart function, control blood glucose, and stabilise blood pressure. “Magnesium also helps regulate other essential nutrients in your body like calcium, Vitamin D, and potassium,” comments Ashleigh Smith, a registered dietician from Cape Town. Fill your plate with dark leafy greens, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, and seeds to meet your magnesium needs.
  5. Omega-3 fatty acids can counteract many of the negative effects that come with ageing. According to researchers from the University of Maryland Medical Center, these healthy fats can help reduce inflammation and lower your risk for heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3s can also stave off cognitive decline, and keep your brain sharp as you age. They’ve also been shown to prevent macular degeneration and dry eyes – two common conditions that reduce vision in the elderly. Eat at least two servings of fatty fish a week. Can’t stand fish? Get your Omega-3s from walnuts, flaxseeds, and soybeans instead.
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Do you need a supplement?
Probably not. “Eating a variety of foods is the best way to ensure you get all the nutrients you need,” says Lucinda Lourens, a registered dietician based in Pretoria. “If you eat a sufficient amount of food from each food group, supplementation will not be necessary. Supplements should complement your diet, and never replace the intake of proper, fresh produce.”

Supplements should only be taken if you’ve been diagnosed with a severe nutrient deficiency or when advised by your doctor.