18th Apr 2011

Food for thought


As our bodies change over the years, so do our nutritional needs, reports Fiona Marsden.

Remember your 20s and 30s, when your body could bounce back from erratic eating and overindulgence? Those were the days … but as you move into mid- and later life, it takes more discipline to stay healthy. Bodily changes, physical inactivity and medications can significantly affect your ability to get the nutrition you need.

“As we get older, we produce less stomach acid, which makes it harder to break down food and absorb a range of vitamins and minerals,” says Accredited Practising Dietitian Dr Antigone Kouris. “We also break down protein less efficiently, so we need more of it in our diets to compensate.”

According to Dr Kouris, our base metabolic rate naturally falls by around 10 per cent as we age, which means we don’t burn calories as efficiently. We tend to exacerbate this by being less active, particularly if chronic illness or disability is involved.

So what’s the upshot? We need to eat foods that are high in nutrition but low in calories. We also need to do weightbearing
exercise to build muscle. The more muscle we have, the better our ability to burn energy and maintain a healthy weight.

What’s on your plate?
Seeking inspiration from traditional cultures is one way to adapt your eating habits to your body’s changing needs.

“For years, Mediterraneans have eaten a diet that emphasises fish, fruit and vegetables, legumes, olive oil, seeds and nuts,” says general practitioner Dr Vicki Kotsirilos, founder of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association. “This way of eating is not only high in protein, vitamins and minerals, but has been shown to improve circulation and protect against cardio-vascular disease.”

To minimise unnecessary calorie intake, replace high-energy/lownutrient foods like cakes and pastries with brown rice, wholemeal pasta or unpeeled potatoes. Dr Antigone Kouris also recommends replacing a portion of grain-based foods with vegetables.

If you need coaxing to eat more veg, try adding vinegar and lemon juice (Greekstyle), soy sauce or ginger (Asian-style) or preparing an Indian-style curry. Then there’s the matter of protein. According to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australians aged over 70 years need 20 per cent more protein.

Additionally, anyone doing resistance training needs more protein to build muscle (see ‘Add in exercise’). “A good rule of thumb is to include a high-protein food in every meal,” says Dr Kouris. If you’re budgetconscious, this needn’t involve buying expensive cuts of meat. Try an omelette with canned bean salad. The combination of animal and plant-based proteins will provide all the essential amino acids. Other options includeskinless chicken or fish with steamed vegetables, or stir-fried tofu with Chinese greens.

Add in exercise
Now, a word about weight-bearing exercise. Whether you’re male or female, weight-bearing exercise will help build bone strength and avoid osteoporosis (yes, blokes can get it too.) Dr Kotsirilos recommends walking whilst carrying additional weight, such as groceries.

If the budget allows, Dr Kouris suggests joining a gym so you can lift light weights or workout on the weight machines several times a week. Tai chi and forms of yoga that use the body’s own weight can also build bone strength and increase muscle mass.
She adds that resistance training using weights or machines may help manage diabetes. “The more muscle you have, the better you are at burning sugar, which helps control your insulin levels.

” Whichever activities you choose, Dr Kotsirilos believes it’s important to do some of them outdoors. “Unprotected exposure to sunshine provides 90 per cent of our required vitamin D intake,”
she says. We need vitamin D to absorb calcium, which in turn helps protect bone strength. The SunSmart website has a handy map of Australia showing ‘safe’ levels of
unprotected sun exposure for different locations during winter and summer. To make the most of weight-bearing exercise and vitamin D production, it’s important to control stress. “Stress boosts production of the hormone cortisol, which breaks down bone
tissue,” Dr Kotsirilos explains.

Mind those meds
It’s little known that some medications prescribed for age-related conditions can interfere with nutrient absorption.
Examples include:

• proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and histamine receptor antagonists(HRAs)
Prescribed to manage reflux, these medications shut down the production of gastric acid, which affects the absorption of a range ofvitamins and minerals.

• loop and thiazide diuretics
Prescribed for high blood pressure and fluid retention, these medications can increase urination and the
excretion of B vitamins and minerals.

Some drugs prescribed for diabetics to lower blood sugar may decrease
absorption of vitamin B12 and folate. Ace inhibitors and other blood pressure management drugs may cause
zinc deficiency. If you’re taking medication, check with your pharmacist or dietitian whether it could affect your nutrition.


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