Is there an ideal diet to combat aging? This is an important question, as the population of older adults—those 60 years and older—is expected to reach about 2 billion by the year 2050!
We already know that the body changes in many ways as we age: muscle mass and bone density decrease, absorption of vitamins becomes less efficient, and balance of fluid and electrolytes shift. With these big changes come big nutritional adjustments: caloric needs decrease, but the body’s need for protein, calcium, vitamin D and B12, fiber, and fluids increase. So how, specifically, should our diets change to meet these needs? Scientists are busy at work developing recommendations with a focus on nutrition and aging.
A recent review by experts around the world was published in the journal Advances in Nutrition. In the analysis, experts first point out that the two major nutritional problems for older adults are malnutrition and obesity, both of which put older adults at higher risk for disability. To counteract malnutrition, the experts recommend a diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, fiber, potassium, vitamin B-12, and protein, all of which are commonly lacking in the older adults’ diets. Interestingly, the experts argue that although nutritional supplements are useful for vitamin deficiencies, whole foods are better in general.
In addition, the experts discuss nutrition when considering certain age-related diseases:
- Sarcopenia (decrease muscle mass). Observational studies have shown a relationship between low protein intake and loss of muscle mass, but more reliable studies need to be done before recommendations can be made.
- Cognitive decline. Studies support that the Mediterranean diet—which consists mostly of fruits, vegetables, and fish—may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, however there is no evidence to support that supplements such as omega-3 fish oils are preventative.
- Infectious disease. Consuming foods high in vitamin E, vitamin B-6, and zinc is recommended, because they are required for maximum immune function.
In general, as the body changes and nutritional demands shift, the need for an age-conscious diet becomes more and more important. In the future, more studies need to be done to determine the best nutritional composition of this “ideal diet.” But don’t worry, we’ll keep you informed every step of the way!