Once you hit your 50th birthday, you probably noticed physical changes that were happening. They’re a natural part of aging, but we can help slow down some of those effects with a nutritious diet. With the right vitamins and minerals, you can help keep your body strong and keep doing the things you love, from scenic walks to yoga and cycling.
Sometimes we need a bit of expert help to figure out how we should be eating, based on our individual needs and lifestyle. A registered dietitian is a valuable resource for providing expert guidance.
That was true for Mary Scaramozzino, an active 54-year-old divorced mother of two who works full-time with an investment firm in Toronto. In her free time, she likes to go to the gym, kayak, cycle, hike and salsa dance. As she has grown older, she has noticed changes in her metabolism and wonders about how to modify her diet so she can stay healthy.
She connected with Jemma Besson, a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes educator with Shoppers Drug Mart for some expert tips that you may also find helpful to incorporate into your own health journey. Here’s a look at their conversation:
Mary: Should I be taking any vitamin supplements?
Jemma: That’s a great question, and one that really depends on the person. There are several key nutrients we would want to ensure you are getting enough of – omega 3 for heart health, vitamin D, calcium and magnesium for bone health and B12 and iron for energy. Out of all of these, studies do show that about 32 per cent of Canadians are not getting enough vitamin D.1
While it can be difficult to obtain enough vitamin D from food alone, it is not impossible. However, with the natural aging process, it can become even more challenging. Studies suggest that supplementation is the best way to ensure adequate vitamin D intake to meet needs. The recommended dose should be discussed with your doctor or registered dietitian to ensure you are not taking too much. Health Canada recommends supplementing with 400 IU daily, if over the age of 50,2 but many health care providers suggest that 1000 IU daily is generally regarded as safe.2
For the other mentioned nutrients, I would suggest working with a healthcare provider, such a registered dietitian who can see where you may benefit from additional supplementation.
Mary: I’m concerned about losing muscle tone and mass. What kind of protein should I be eating?
Jemma: When it comes to protein, it is important to spread it throughout the day. A good rule of thumb is to always include a protein source at every meal and snack. It is important to include a variety of protein sources in your diet such as fish, poultry, beef, eggs, dairy, as well as vegetarian proteins including tofu, legumes, nuts and seeds. I often find that people struggle the most with protein at breakfast. Some great protein sources for breakfast are Greek yogurt, eggs, cottage cheese, or a tofu scramble. You can always boost protein at meals by adding topping like hemp hearts, nuts and seeds.
Mary: My mom has osteoporosis. What can I do to reduce my risk?
Jemma: From a diet perspective, we really want to ensure you are consuming enough calcium. As women age their calcium needs increase. Foods that may help you meet your calcium needs are: dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt, fortified non-dairy beverages like soy, rice or almond milk, canned salmon with the bones and sardines, leafy green vegetables like collard greens, kale and broccoli.
With calcium we also need to talk about vitamin D. Vitamin D is necessary for absorbing calcium. It helps the body use calcium and some other nutrients needed to build and maintain strong bones. Too little of this vitamin can lead to calcium loss from bones which can subsequently cause fragile bones in adults.
Eating foods that are high in sodium, such as processed foods like fast food, salted nuts, chips or canned foods with added salt, can increase calcium losses in the body. Almost three quarters of our sodium intake comes from processed foods like deli meats, soups, prepackaged snacks, and sauces. Try looking at the label for words such as “sodium-free”, “low sodium”, “reduced sodium,” or “no added salt” to help reduce added sodium. Prepare meals at home using fresh herbs and spices.
Mary: I’d like to lose a few pounds. What’s the best tactic? Should I be staying away from carbs?
Jemma: When looking at weight, It’s true that diet is very important, but we cannot undervalue the other pillars of health – adequate sleep, physical activity and stress management. From a nutrition perspective, no, you do not need to fear carbs. What is important is the source of carb, portion size and what you pair it with.
Carbs from whole foods like sweet potato, quinoa, squash and steel cut oats are packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals. They should be chosen more often than more refined carbs such as breads and pasta. Using the plate model to portion meals is a great approach to creating a meal that is balanced. Half your plate should consist of vegetables, one quarter (about the size of a small fist) for your carbs and one quarter for protein.
Mary: How should my diet change now that I am in menopause?
Jemma: With menopause, due to lowering hormone levels (along with natural aging), many women find that their weight begins to increase. Women often tend to lose muscle mass and gain fat mass. Diet is one component of maintaining a healthy weight – along with being physically active, sleeping well, and stress management. With decreasing levels of estrogen, bone health becomes particularly important and special attention needs to be paid to ensure that your diet contains adequate nutrients to support bone health.
Mary: I go to the gym right after work. Should I be eating a snack before I go to make sure I have enough energy? Or is it better to eat after exercising?
Jemma: This depends on when you had lunch and when you are planning to have dinner. Typically, we suggest that if you have more than 4-6 hours between meals adding a snack is a good idea. Because you exercise right after work, a snack may be warranted as the time until your next meal is likely more than 4-6 hours since your last meal. Post exercise, ideally eating your next meal within 30-60 minutes is ideal to help with replenishing nutrient stores and building lean muscle.
Mary: What can I do to cope with a slowing metabolism?
Jemma: Preserving lean muscle mass through physical activity and nutrition. As you age, the body breaks down muscle mass faster than it rebuilds it. Protein needs increase with age. Also, from a nutrition standpoint, not eating more energy than your body needs. With the natural aging process, we need less calories, but our need for certain nutrients, like vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium and potassium, increases.3 Working with a dietitian can help with finding the right balance of energy intake with nutrient needs – especially to support metabolism.
Mary: Thank you for all your tips. I’ve learned a lot.
Presented by BOOST®/Nestlé Health Sciences.
- Vitamin D Blood Levels of Canadians: Health at a Glance, published by Statistics Canada, January 2013. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2013001/article/11727-eng.pdf [Accessed September 24, 2019.]
- Vitamin D and Calcium: Updated Dietary Reference Intakes, published by Health Canada, modified July 19, 2019. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/vitamins-minerals/vitamin-calcium-updated-dietary-reference-intakes-nutrition.html [Accessed September 24, 2019.]
- Eat to stay healthy as you age, Cara Rosenbloom, RD, published by Heart & Stroke Canada. https://www.heartandstroke.ca/articles/eat-to-stay-healthy-as-you-age. [Accessed September 24, 2019.]