Should you eat differently when you’re over 50 than you did when you were in your 20s? Probably. There are specific nutritional needs when you’re older, and, in addition, you can’t get away with eating so much junk as you age.
When you get older, you need fewer calories. You may be less active, and your metabolism tends to drop along with your muscle mass. This isn’t as pronounced for people who work out regularly, especially if you have exercised for a number of years. When you get into your 70s or 80s, you may have the opposite problem and have to work to keep your weight up. This can be due to medical conditions or medications that depress your appetite. If you have a medical problem, follow your doctor’s directions.
If you’re in otherwise good health and feel the pounds creeping up, it’s time to cut your intake, raise your activity level, or, better yet, do both.
If you have trouble keeping your weight up, or are reducing caloric intake, you may need to pay attention to protein. If you have a hearty appetite and indulge it, you are probably getting plenty of protein, especially if you eat a lot of meat. Be careful not to overdo the protein, which would be more than about 25% of calories. Excess protein is just excreted, which can be a strain on your kidneys. This is no problem if you have healthy kidneys, but the older you get, the greater the risk of having undetected kidney disease.
This means stay away from extreme fad diets that have you eliminate carbs in favor of more protein (or any other extreme diets). The carbs you should eliminate are excess sweets and junk food. The carbs you should eat are vegetables (all you want), fruit (about 3 servings a day), and grains, in moderation, half of them whole.
Worried about your cholesterol? Cut back on animal products in your diet. Cholesterol is found only in animal products. The other dietary culprit is saturated fat, found mostly in animal products (beef, chicken, pork, lamb, fish, dairy). These can raise your LDL cholesterol. Exercise raises beneficial HDL cholesterol.
It’s a good idea to take a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. There are certain nutrients that you may have trouble getting enough of in your diet. Some supplements are targeted for people over 50. Look at what you eat, especially if you eat cereal or other fortified foods, to see what you may be lacking. You may need to take extra calcium. If you get a lot of sun or drink a lot of milk, the vitamin D in your multi may be sufficient. Otherwise you will need more. Vitamin B12 is poorly absorbed by many older people, and folic acid is important, but your multi probably covers it. Vitamin E may help recovery from workouts or injury; supplement no more than 100 IU a day. Tell your doctor what supplements you are taking.
Look at the new USDA Food Guide Pyramid at www.mypyramid.com. It has good recommendations for foods and servings. Then take a notebook with you and write down everything you eat for 3 days. See how close you get to the recommendations. The calorie recommendations are approximate because they don’t allow for weight or body composition. Body weight is important to health, but it isn’t everything. Keep your weight down but your nutrition up.