With each passing day, we better understand the impact of nutrition on health. This allows us to develop improved eating tips for healthy aging. As fields such as nutrigenomics pop up and scientists delve deeper into the mystery of the gut microbiome, our ability to positively affect our health continues to build. For the many adults who want to maintain their independence and age in place, nutrition is a great place to start.
One great aspect of nutrition is that it is never too late or too early to get started. A recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that a “precision-medicine” approach can reverse Early Alzheimer’s. Precision medicine encompasses more than food, but addressing nutrient deficiencies and insulin resistance are core parts of the approach.
While what we eat is important, how we eat can have unexpected impacts on how our body assimilates our meals. These 5 crucial eating tips for healthy aging won’t cost you anything, but you can help to optimize your aging trajectory at any age.
Table of Contents
- Eating Tips for Healthy Aging #1: Eat Less Often
- Eating Tips for Healthy Aging #2: Stop Eating Three Hours Before Bed
- Eating Tips for Healthy Aging #3: Cut Out the Sugar
- Eating Tips for Healthy Aging #4: Avoid Processed Foods
- Eating Tips for Healthy Aging #5: Get the Right Amount of Protein
- Eating Tips for Healthy Aging #6: Take Time to Enjoy Your Meal and Chew Your Food
- Next Steps
Eating Tips for Healthy Aging #1: Eat Less Often
It is important to note that Sinclair suggests eating less often, not eating less. He emphasizes that it is critical to get the proper amounts of calories and nutrients during your eating window.
What Sinclair does advocate is intermittent fasting, also known as time-restricted eating. In this practice, meals are eaten in a window of twelve hours or less, which kicks off a cascade of positive benefits. This restriction may sound uncomfortable at first, but when you consider this could mean you eat between 7 AM and 7 PM, or 8 AM and 8 PM, it doesn’t sound so bad. That is a lot of time to eat; if you start your day with a cup of black coffee or tea, you’re most of the way there.
The health benefits of this eating tip for healthy aging are enhanced if the eating window is reduced further. Some favor eight or ten-hour eating windows. The benefits come in the periods when the body is not actively digesting food, which allows the body to engage in other essential processes. This also means that it is better not to snack throughout your eating window.
Eating Tips for Healthy Aging #2: Stop Eating Three Hours Before Bed
This practice is advocated by many doctors, and for good reason. As Dr. Joseph Mercola details in his book KetoFast, cutting off food intake allows the body to finish digesting your last meal before you go to sleep. This, in turn, sets you up to optimize the body’s cleanout and repair processes. These processes affect everything from blood sugar levels to inflammation. However, the headliner for aging is that the glymphatic system, which filters toxins from the brain, is far more active during sleep. In other words, quality sleep is critical for brain health.
Three hours is optimal, but if your schedule makes this difficult, remember that two hours is better than one hour, and one hour is better than fifteen minutes. Non-caffeinated beverages, such as herbal teas, can be a good way to stem cravings and set you up for a good night’s sleep. This can be more of an adjustment, but if you can design your day to stop eating early, your body will thank you, both now and in the future.
Eating Tips for Healthy Aging #3: Cut Out the Sugar
Our society is simultaneously dealing with spikes in obesity, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. Much of this is due to our diets.
We will discuss the foods you want to eat in a future article, but it starts with cutting sugar and processed foods. Cutting sugar is Dr. Sinclair’s top non-timing tip on the Lifespan podcast, and the sentiment is echoed by many others.
Fortunately, cutting out sugar doesn’t mean that nothing will taste sweet. There are a variety of natural sweeteners available, such as monk fruit and stevia. These bring great taste without the negative impacts of sugar.
Eating Tips for Healthy Aging #4: Avoid Processed Foods
Sugar is a great starting point, but to optimize your health as you age, you will want to avoid processed foods.
What are processed foods? This is a bit tricky, because technically, a processed food is any food altered from its natural state. When this refers to ancient processes such as freezing food, extracting olive oil, or preparing nut butter, it’s not a concern. When it refers to modern “ultra-processed” foods, which may have excessive salt, sugar, or low-quality vegetable oils, it becomes a concern.
These concerns are exacerbated by the preservatives food companies use to lengthen the shelf life of certain foods. While these chemicals are great for the food company’s bottom line, they are not so great for your health!
As a basic rule, the closer a food is to its natural state, the better. If food is frozen or canned for storage reasons, or turned into a product such as a nut butter or olive oil, that’s one thing, but if your bagged/boxed food is full of added sugars, salts, and chemical preservatives, you are setting yourself up for problems.
Eating Tips for Healthy Aging #5: Get the Right Amount of Protein
Protein is a Goldilocks-type situation; you need to find the amount that is “just right” for you. On the one hand, adequate protein intake is essential for maintaining muscle as you age. On the other hand, researchers such as Dr. Sinclair have noted that excessive proteins may over-stimulate the mTOR pathway. That is not ideal for longevity, though it can be ideal for short-term muscle growth.
Sarcopenia, the loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength with aging, is a common condition in seniors. Sarcopenia is also predictive of loss of independence, falls, and mortality – in other words, it is a sign of worse things to come.
Proper protein consumption and the right exercise routine can help to stave this off. A 2016 Pubmed study, Protein Intake and Muscle Function in Older Adults, indicates that the recommended dietary allowance of 0.37 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day, which is the same for both sexes, may be set too low to promote optimal muscle retention for aging adults. An article on The Geriatric Dietitian website, Protein Requirements for Older Adults, suggests that you may want to target 0.45-0.55 g of protein per pound of body weight.
If you are wondering how to get that protein, the previously noted article is an excellent resource. One great tip is to spread your protein intake throughout the day. This allows your body to maximize protein synthesis, as there are limits on what it can handle at one time.
Remember, if you want to stay active longer, protein and movement are your friends!
Eating Tips for Healthy Aging #6: Take Time to Enjoy Your Meal and Chew Your Food
If you have a hectic schedule, it is easy to get into the habit of shoveling down some food on the go. With so much processed food that can be chewed with minimal effort, we are rarely forced to sit and “chew the fat”, so to speak.
Even after retirement, when there is plenty of time to enjoy a meal, some seniors struggle to break old habits of rushing through their meals. Unfortunately, this has downsides beyond missing out on enjoying what could be a pleasurable experience. Seeing our food, smelling it, and chewing it thoroughly all factor into how well we absorb nutrients during digestion.
If you live in a senior community, the dining may be set up to encourage gatherings at meal times. The benefits of sitting down to a meal with a family are well known. As family is a subjective concept, you can expect to get similar benefits from eating with good friends.
If you live alone, it can be tempting to eat in front of the television. However, it may be better to try a book on tape, as this allows you to keep your eyes engaged with your meal. Most local libraries offer a terrific selection of free audiobooks that you can borrow and download to your phone or tablet. This makes it easy and free to find a good listen. Listening to music is also an excellent option.
Whether you are in your senior years, or working with an elderly loved one, the desire to retain your cognitive and physical abilities is likely front of mind. It is never too late for positive change, but the earlier you shift your eating habits, the better your chances of avoiding undesirable outcomes down the road.
These tips focused on when to eat and what not to eat; to learn about some great things to eat for optimal aging, look out for our next article on the Top Foods to Eat for Optimal Aging!