Saturday, January 31, 2015

Middle Age Nutrition - It's not just about weight !

A healthy diet is a given, but does this "ideal" diet change over time. The short answer is yes.

The ideal diet of a child, adolescent, grown-up and that of a middle aged person actually differ drasticaly. So, one diet does not fit all !

İn childhood and adolescence a diet high in vitamins, minerals and protein from a variety of sources is essential for proper growth and development. The unlimited energy of this age group also requires a high calorie intake. Once development is complete these requirements begin to decrease. Unless the adult individual is an athlete or body builder the requiremnt for protein and fats is dramaticaly reduced. At this point excess protein, fat and calories will only contribute to obesity and a wide variety of associated chronic diseases and premature aging.

What happens to our metabolism as we get older ?

By the time we are in our mid-thirties we are pretty much done with growing and developing. It is not a coincidence that most of us ( previously of normal weight ) begin to gain weight in these years. (The Middle age spread). A Harvard study found that people tend to gain an average of 20 pounds between the ages of 35 and 50.

Here's why;

  • We begin to ( physically ) slow down; less activity, less sports, less sex etc., thus burning less calories.
  • Sensing that our growth and development is done, a certain group of hormones like "Human Growth Hormone" ( HGH ), Testosterone and Estrogen begin to decrease. The decrease of these hormones not only cause a slowing of our metabolism, it is also associated with gradual muscle tissue loss ( "Sarcopenia" ). Loss of muscle results in a further decrease in metabolism.
So, by eating the same amount of food that we ate in our thirties we will end up gaining weight in our forties and fifties !!!

So what do we do ? ; Eat less or try to walk it off !!!

Well, we do both, but we'll get to that subject later.

It's not just about weight

Nutrients like proteins and fat that are vital for our development in youth may become actually very hazardous to our health in later years. ( But not for the reasons you think they are ! )

It's common knowledge that excess calories from refined carbohydrates and sugars end up being converted to fat and stored in the liver and any other place that is available ! The same goes for fats and without going into detail this process leads to obesity and our #1 killer cardiovascular disease.

What about animal protein ( meat ) ? What happens when we consume too much meat ?

( Disclaimer : I am not a vegetarian and I actually enjoy a good juicy steak now and then ! ) 

But the following is not so pleasent for us middle aged  meat eaters; 

Meat proteins are digested and broken down into "amino acids". These amino acids are utilized to regenerate new cells, muscle tissue, blood and a variety of substances necessary for our metabolism. In middle age we still need protein to maintain these processes but our growth process is long over and we don't need so much for building muscle and bones etc. ( unless you are working out regularly and vigorously). So what happens when we have too much of amino acids circulating in our blood ?  The excess can't just be flushed out like in the case of salt or minerals and can not be pooped away like fiber. The answer is that just like in the case of excess sugar these amino acids are converted into sugar ( "gluconeogenesis" ) and then fat and stored, resulting in obesity, insulin rersistence and yes, diabetes and heart disease!

Meat consumption is percieved as a sign of "plenty" and "bounty" by our evolutianary metabolism. In times of bounty our metabolism gears up for growth and various mechanisms are set into action. One of these mechanisms is the production and release of a hormone called IGF 1 ( Insulin Like Growth Factor 1 ). Ordinarily this hormone promotes cell division and growth but if you are a full grown adult, cell growth may not be a good thing ! Unfortunately, at our age IGF 1 promotes and fuels Cancer growth.

A Harvard study that followed 120,000 people over 30 years was published in 2012 and reports that; Red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular and cancer mortality.

Conclusion : At our age we need to reduce our intake of animal protein !

How much do we eat ? : The Dietary Guidlines for Americans recommends we eat about 50 grams (46 grams for women and 56 grams for men) of protein per day. This number may be too low for people in their twenties and thirties but too high for us middle aged. It is wise to divide this protein intake so that half comes from animal sources ( meats, eggs and dairy ) and half from plant sources (legumes, nuts and vegetables).

Just as a reference point :

  • A 4-ounce piece of meat has about 28 grams of protein
  • A cup of dry beans has about 16 grams
  • An 8-ounce container of natural yogurt has about 11 grams
  • A 3-ounce serving of broccoli has 3 grams

OK, we are told to limit our sugar and carbohydrate consumption, we now see that we need to limit our (animal) protein consumption. So what do we eat ?

In midlife it seems that we are aging more rapidly and we are now more vulnerable to chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer. At this point our nutrition should be focused on getting as much antioxidants and cancer fighting foods as possible; Fruits and vegetables.

The aging process, though not fully understood, is likened to the oxidation ( rusting ) of our tissues due to internal and external factors. This process called "oxidative stress" causes inflammation and damage to our tissues making them vulnerable to "aging" and chronic diseases.

The Solution : Antioxidants !

Food based natural antioxidants are the "antidote" to oxidative stress. All fruits and vegetables contain not only essential vitamins, minerals and fiber, but large quantities of different antioxidants.

Antioxidant Superstars
  • Green Leafy Vegetables and Salad Greens : Especially Spinach, Kale, Arugula
  • Apples
  • Citrus Fruit
  • Pomegranates
  • Blueberries ( and other Berries )
  • Red Cabbage
  • Red Beet Root
  • Tomatoes and Peppers
  • Beans
  • Nuts ( especially Walnuts )
  • Spices ( Cinnamon, Cloves, Turmeric, Ginger )
  • and last but not least ; Broccoli ; Broccoli is in a class of its own as it has very strong antioxidant and anti-cancer properties ( More on Broccoli in another article )
In Conclusion ; Middle age nutrition should be "fine tuned" as follows;
  • Less sugar and refined carbohydrates
  • Less animal protein 
  • Less processed foods
  • Much much more plant based whole foods.
Take Care,

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