Most people understand the necessity of nutrition during the early stages of life and how good nutrition can impact your health and vitality as you move through the decades. However, once in our sixties, nutrition seems to fall from the forefront of daily considerations and that is unfortunate. The common thinking is that if you’re not as active as you used to be, you don’t need to eat as much and many of us slip into the “tea and toast” set. While it may be true that the quantity of what you eat can decrease, you can’t let the quality of your daily intake slip. Certainly you can make fewer choices, but you can also make them better choices. Even as a senior, you body still needs you to fuel your engines to make it easier to get through your day and to keep your body in tip top condition, especially if you’re striving to stay active.
Achieving a daily balanced nutritional intake requires a bit of planning but it’s easier than you think and can be as simple as sticking with the adage of “eating a rainbow” every day. This means ensuring that your food covers as many color choices as possible to reap a broad spectrum of nutritional benefits. Your food choices should also take any current medical conditions into account. For example, if you are a diabetic, your choices will be different from someone who is not. You may wish to include more foods which support bone maintenance if you’re living with osteoporosis. If you have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, you’ll want to be especially careful about your choice of foods. Food can also be used in a preventative fashion. If your body is fed properly it is less likely to become ill.
Eating well supports every system in your body from your immune system to your cardiovascular system to your digestive system. It supplies every organ and muscle in your body with the nutrients they need to function properly. When and what you eat can affect your energy levels, your weight, your digestion, and how you sleep. The most important things to remember are that it’s never too late to start making better choices and to implement your new choices slowly to ensure they last a lifetime.
Overview of Nutrition
What Is A Nutrient?
The intake of edible and beneficial plants, animals, and liquids (food) provides our body with nutrients. Barron’s Dictionary of Medical Terms defines a nutrient as a “substance that must be supplied by the diet to provide for normal health of the body, and for energy supplies and materials for growth. Nutrients include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.” The only nutrient missing from this definition is water, and make no mistake, water is as important as proteins and carbs; just try surviving without it. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at how different nutrients provide our body with the raw materials they need to function.
You may have heard or seen the terms micronutrient and macronutrient. Their definition is simple really; micronutrients are something the body needs in smaller quantities, while macronutrients are required in larger amounts. For example, vitamins are micronutrients and carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and water are macronutrients.
Enzymes are essential catalysts in the chemical reactions in the body. If it were not for enzymes, these reactions would take place far too slowly to sustain life. There are two divisions of enzymes; digestive and metabolic. The body uses most of its enzyme-producing potential to produce about two dozen enzymes. These control the breakdown and utilization of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to create the hundreds of metabolic enzymes necessary to maintain the rest of the tissues and organs in their functions. 1
As a senior, the nutrients you take in each day will help you either maintain control over, or ward off, conditions such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, and more. But don’t make the mistake of using the terms “calories” and “nutrients” interchangeably. As you age, you may not need to take in as many calories (based on your activity level) but you still need to take in just as many nutrients as you did earlier in life. The trick is to eliminate empty calories and stick with nutrient-dense foods. If you do, it all balances out in the end, in your favor. Let’s take a closer look at the nutrients you need to include in your diet every day.
Your Six Most Important Nutrients
Proteins are often referred to as the “building blocks of life” and for good reason. At the molecular level, proteins are made up of chains of amino acids which, when digested, are rearranged by your body and used as the raw materials to build more of what your body needs (collagen for bones, keratin for hair, etc.) Proteins also help you fight off infection, help you grow, are used as energy, and act as catalysts that regulate chemical reactions in your body.
|To read more in-depth information about proteins, CLICK HERE.||Proteins can be obtained from both animals & plants. For an in-depth list, CLICK HERE.|
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbs break down very quickly in the body giving you access to quick energy. The downside to this quick energy from simple carbs is what is commonly known as the “sugar crash”; that sluggish, dragging feeling that comes over you quickly and makes you just want to put your head down and sleep. Refined, processed foods with added sugars are simple carbs and have fewer nutrients than foods with naturally-occurring sugars like milk, fruits, and vegetables.
Complex carbohydrates are more closely associated with foods with higher fiber content, like whole grains. You still get energy from complex carbs but they take longer to break down and enter the bloodstream more gradually, so the energy is doled out at a slower rate, keeping blood sugar levels stable longer without the crash. The higher fiber content is also a bonus for keeping intestinal problems, such as constipation, at bay. For a full explanation of carbohydrates, including excellent sources, CLICK HERE.
Nope, it’s not a nasty word. Fats are absolutely necessary for your body, in the right form and quantity. Fats give you energy, help your body absorb certain vitamins, are central to proper growth, and are essential for proper brain function. However, to use the vernacular, fats can be categorized as “the good, the bad, and the downright ugly”. Sources of good fats include olive oil, avocados, walnuts, flax seeds, salmon, and tuna. For a full explanation of fats, including how to manage a better-fat diet, CLICK HERE.
Vitamins and Minerals
With all the information that’s available today on this vitamin or that mineral, who wouldn’t be confused. To get right back to basics, vitamins regulate our metabolism, assist with releasing energy from digested food, and act as coenzymes. Some vitamins are water-soluble (vitamin B-complex and C). Your body takes what it needs and excretes the rest. For this reason, water-soluble vitamins should be taken as supplements or consumed in your diet daily as they cannot be stored in the body. Other vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K are stored for longer periods of time in the body’s fatty tissue and liver.
Minerals are crucial for cell function and structure, proper body fluid composition, the formation of blood and bone, healthy nerves, and proper muscle tone. Because all enzyme activities involve minerals, minerals also functions as coenzymes to assist with energy production, growth, healing and proper utilization of vitamins and other nutrients.
To see an in-depth explanation of the most common vitamins and minerals, including an explanation of the symbols used in their measurement (mg, mcg, IU) and the daily recommended allowances for men and women CLICK HERE.
Achieving A Balanced Daily Intake of Nutrients
#6 – Water Is A Nutrient Too
It is safe to say that a human being’s body is comprised of approximately 70% water, although total water content can vary from individual to individual. Some parts of your body are comprised of more water than others, however water is involved in almost every bodily function. Water helps you maintain an optimal internal temperature, carries waste from the body, and aids in the digestion, absorption, and transportation of nutrients. A drop in the body’s water content leads to a drop in your total blood volume. The hypothalamus, situated in your brain, senses this drop and sends out the message, “Hey, did you know you’re thirsty?” However, by the time you get this message and go for a glass of water, you’re already on the way to dehydration.
It’s important to maintain a continual intake of fluids throughout the day because, as we age, we can lose some sense of thirst. In addition, some medications require an increase of fluids. A lack of hydration can lead to an improper balance of minerals in the bloodstream and can throw the normal functioning of the brain cells into chaos. Increasing your intake of fluids can be as simple as having a warm cup of soup broth while you’re watching TV, sipping from a water bottle throughout the day, snacking on high water content fruits like watermelon, adding a glass of juice at breakfast, or drinking a full glass of water when taking your medications or supplements.
How much protein you need each day is tied directly to your level of activity, daily calorie intake needs, and whether you are a man or a woman. Here’s how to calculate your daily needs. To keep things simple (but not necessarily as accurate), you can calculate how much protein you need each day by using the following formula:
Sedentary/Recreational Activities = 0.4 grams per pound of body weight
Light Daily Activity = 0.5 grams per pound of body weight
Active Lifestyle = 0.6 to 0.9 grams per pound of body weight
Example: 150 lbs. x 0.5 grams/pound = 75 grams of protein/day (2.5 ounces)
If you’re trying to stick to 1,800 calories per day and you are not active at all, you should shoot for anywhere from two to five ounces of protein per day (probably best to stay at the lower end of the scale).
What does that look like? Well, three ounces of meat is about the size and thickness of a deck of cards and one ounce of cheese is about the height and width of 4 stacked dice. Any dairy sources of protein, like yogurt, should tell you on the packaging what percentage of protein is in each serving and how much a serving size is.
Carbohydrates are sneaky little critters that can accumulate over time until, before you know it, you’re consuming too many in one day. This usually results in weight gain. Keep a close eye on your carb count and try and stick with complex carbs to gain the maximum nutritional benefit. To see how to get the very best balance of carbohydrates in your day, CLICK HERE.
Zeroing in on the right number of fats for you requires a few more steps than something like researching how much calcium you should be getting each day. First you need to know how many calories per day are healthy for you based on your age, height, weight, and activity level. To see the complete formula, CLICK HERE. For an in-depth table of good fats and bad fats, CLICK HERE. A good rule of thumb is to stick with the healthier fats found in foods like avocados and olive oil and avoid fried foods, candy, potato chips, high-fat meats and whole-fat dairy.
Daily Recommended Allowances (RDA) for vitamins and minerals are just that; recommendations, and they usually state the minimum requirement. A lot of factors come into play when determining a personal requirement because every body’s needs are different; one person may be taking medications that knock the vitamin C right out of their body while another person might have a low biotolerance for vitamin C and can’t take as much.
Calorie Counting Confusion
You might be a smoker, you might be underweight, or you might have a specific condition which requires you to take more of one supplement than the RDA. Some supplements may be contraindicated depending on which medications you’re taking. Other supplements may not be necessary at all if you’re getting a decent intake of that nutrient from your diet (iron, for example). It’s always best to talk with your primary health care provider before deciding if a supplement is right for you.
Let’s talk about fruits and vegetables here for a moment. Plan to eat approximately 2 cups of fruit a day. What does this look like? One large banana, one half cup of strawberries and one half cup of orange juice will fill the bill. Try to eat the whole fruit rather than the juice because of the added fiber you’ll be consuming. Plan to eat approximately 2½ cups of vegetables each day. What does this look like? One half cup each of raw broccoli, tomatoes, yellow and orange sweet peppers, and cauliflower in a salad with lunch and another half cup of sweet potato with supper will fill the bill. When choosing your fruits and vegetables each day, remember to try and eat a rainbow every day.
It’s best to try and eat at the same time every day. If you wait until you’re hungry, you’re liable to overeat or indulge in all the least beneficial choices simply because they’re there at your fingertips. How much to eat at each meal brings us into the realm of the calorie counting confusion that seems to have sprung up, along with too many fad diets “to count”, over the past few decades.
What Are Calories?
First of all, we should talk about what calories are not. When asked, most people will describe calories as a “unit of food”, which is incorrect. Others will say that calories are something you need to fear and watch like a thief in the night. Another widely accepted piece of fiction states that calories, from whatever source, will automatically be converted into weight. Calories are not converted to into weight unless you’re taking in more calories than you’re using up.
Calories are a unit of energy which function as fuel for your body. The number of calories in a portion of food is a measure of the energy stored in that food. We all know the example of an apple; it takes more calories (energy) to digest an apple than is in the apple itself. Calories have a “fuel” function; like you would burn wood to stay warm, calories are burned as fuel when enzymes break down fat into fatty acids, protein into amino acids, and carbohydrates into glucose. All three fuel the body in their own special way. If you burn every bit of a gram of fat, it will release all of its calories as energy.
What Are Empty Calories?
“Empty calories” is a contemporary dietary term, coined in the last few decades. Calories are considered “empty” when they come from a source that is high in added sugars and solid fats and contribute practically nothing in the way of beneficial nutrients. Examples of foods which contain empty calories are on most of our “most wanted” lists; cakes, cookies, pastries, donuts, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, cheese, ice cream, sausages, hot dogs, and bacon. Choose lower fat and sugar-free options to avoid as many empty calories as you can.
Where Does The Caloric Confusion Come In?
Severely restricting calories to lose weight doesn’t work. Your body goes into “famine” mode and hangs on to every calorie it can get in case there are no more to come in the near future. The minute you start eating more calories again, you body thinks to itself “I need this” and begins storing more than it actually needs as fat for the next “famine”. The solution is to spread your calories evenly throughout your day, obtaining them from as many beneficial food groups as possible, always taking into account your activity level. For example, if your activity level decreases during the winter, try to consume fewer empty calories than you might have while you were more active during the summer months. The take-away from this calorie confusion conversation is “everything in moderation”.
Seniors and Calories
The National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging in the U.S., sets out these guidelines for men and women over the age of fifty. However, remember…these are simply guidelines. Each person is different and only you and your primary health care provider know what’s right for you.
|– DAILY CALORIC INTAKE –|
Make the Most of Your Calories – Crowding Out
Don’t cut out, crowd out.
Crowding out is a term which describes how to eat in a healthy way so that you never have the chance to feel hungry. Throughout your day, you literally crowd out the junk food by incorporating key foods instead. Key foods are foods which have a higher nutritional value (are “nutrient-dense”), lower calorie count, and at the same time, more fiber. The lower calorie count of key foods (raw apples vs. apple pie) means you’ll get to eat more of them while reaping the nutritional benefit, staving off hunger, and negating cravings. Add healthier choices to whatever else you’re already eating. For instance, replace white bread with a high fiber, whole grain alternative. You can even move from two pieces of bread to one whole wheat wrap filled with a little lean ham and lots of chopped veggies. Try and have a large salad before a meal, or fora meal, with a bit of lean protein, like chicken, in the salad. Snack on healthy foods like carrots, apples, celery, granola, and almonds throughout the day. This way,
you’re not adding any empty calories and you’re bulking out your nutritional intake at the same time.
Eating A Rainbow
Eating a rainbow is a very easy concept to remember. Simply put, it means making as many colorful choices with your foods as possible. Why does the color of your food matter? It matters because, over and above the typical vitamins and minerals they all contain, different colors of fruits and vegetables each contain different nutrients. By eating a rainbow you’ll ensure that you are ingesting the widest possible range of nutrients every day.
fruits and vegetables get their color from a bright red carotenoid pigment called lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that is thought to help prevent certain types of cancer such as lung and prostate cancer. A diet rich in lycopene may also offer some cardiovascular and respiratory benefits.
and fruits and vegetables get their color from a plant pigment containing beta-carotene. The carotenoids are a class of compounds related to vitamin A. The best known subclass of the carotenoids is the carotenes, of which beta-carotene is the most widely known. A diet rich in beta-carotene may help lower the risk of heart disease, respiratory system problems, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Beta-carotene also supports the immune system and can help with dry skin and vision problems.
and (and sometimes dark red) fruits and vegetables contain anthocyanins. These dark pigments protect plants from sun damage and have powerful antioxidant benefits in humans. Anthocyanins are part of the flavonoid family; a chemical compound that plants produce to protect themselves from parasites, bacteria, and cell injury. Anthocyanin-rich fruits and vegetables are anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial in nature and may help lower blood pressure and support your liver and eyesight.
Try and eat fruits and vegetables whole because whole products contain a distinctive balance of nutrients which is difficult to replicate in extracts such as juices.
Small Steps for a Lifetime of Health
Start With A Plan – It doesn’t matter how small your steps are, what matters is that you take them. Make one small change per month if that’s what you think it will take for you to stick with it. But the most important part, no matter what size your steps, is to start with a plan you can refer back to. This plan will keep you on track and help you to see your successes. The following is an example of how to get started in three easy steps. Work with a partner on this if you feel it would make it simpler.
Step One – Decide Where You Are Now
Are you active at all? Do you already eat 2 cups of fruit per day? How’s your water intake? These are all questions you can ask yourself to determine what changes are necessary. Question yourself about the following categories and record your answers to see where you stand.
1. How active am I? Sedentary, moderately active, very active.
2. How much water do I drink in a day?
3. How many servings of fruits and vegetables do I eat per day? (1 serving = 1 medium or ½ cup)
4. How many servings of whole grains do I eat in one day? (cereal, oatmeal, toast, pasta, rice)
5. How many servings of protein do I eat? (meat, almonds, peanut butter, legumes, eggs, hummus)
6. Do I consume any beneficial oils in my diet? (EFA’s, avocado, olive oil, walnut oil)
Step Two – Decide Where You Need To Be
From your answers in Step One you’ll be able to tell where you can make improvements. For example, if you are not active enough, add some activity to your day. If you’re only eating sugary cereals for breakfast, exchange them for oatmeal with berries. You can use all the information in this chapter that we’ve covered to refine your plan.
Step Three – Put Your Plan On Paper Your plan will seem more concrete if you can see it in writing. Use a calendar format to write in the changes you’re looking to make daily, weekly, or monthly. For example, if you want to incorporate a weekly walk on Mondays, list this on your calendar for each Monday in the month. Put your plan somewhere you’ll see it every day to keep yourself on track.
Don’t overburden yourself with a new change every day of the month or frustration and resentment will set in and you’re less likely to embrace the change you’re trying to make.
Learn How to Graze
When you think of grazing, you probably conjure up images of green pastures and happy cows and, to a point, you’d be right. Cows don’t eat three square meals per day, they graze. To follow this concept, you need to eat at least five small meals throughout your day and include snacks between meals (something your Mother would have been appalled at, but the times they are a’changin’). The operative word here is “small”; you need to keep your meals on the tiny side so that you can maintain your proper weight. A “meal” might consist of half a sandwich, a few apple slices, and a small glass of water. A snack might consist of 10 almonds. Grazing is about keeping your blood sugar levels even throughout the day to prevent spikes and valleys, cravings, and hunger pangs. In addition, it keeps your body constantly fueled with the nutrients it needs to keep you healthy and functioning properly.
I Just Don’t Feel Like Eating
Sometimes it’s difficult to follow through with specific food choices, but when you don’t even feel like eating, it can be a real challenge. This is when you have to remind yourself that your body is counting on you to give it what it needs so that you can continue to enjoy your good health. There could be other reasons why you don’t feel like eating, so let’s take a look at a few of those right now.
Are you tired of cooking for one? Sometimes when seniors live alone, eating can become an issue, especially if the senior is not socially active and spends a lot of time by themselves. When you’ve planned and cooked for many most of your life, it’s hard to adjust to cooking for one. There are services that will bring a senior their meals right to their door. However, a better alternative is to try and become involved in social activities where there is opportunity for pot luck meals, cooking classes, meals in a restaurant, or just the company of others who like to cook. One great option is to volunteer for organizations who feed the less fortunate. In this way, you accomplish both helping others and helping one’s self at the same time.
Sometimes there are medical reasons for not eating as regularly as necessary. Some foods can be difficult to chew or swallow, or both. Add in a problem with teeth, dentures, and/or digestion, and it’s easy to see why someone might want to avoid eating or fall into a pattern of eating the same things over and over. Some medications can alter your sense of taste and, coupled with the loss of sense of taste as we age, food tends to lose its appeal.
Once you’ve decided on an eating plan that’s right for you, try and incorporate as many reasons to make eating a social occasion, sticking with your plan as much as possible. You could even make a few meals ahead of time and freeze them for the days when you don’t feel like cooking. If you’re trying a new recipe or a new food, invite others to try it with you. It’s possible they may have already tried this new dish and will have some further recipe suggestions for you!
The Way You Eat is as Important as What You Eat
When you prepare your food, give some thought to the way you’re going to do it. As often as you can, eat your well-washed fruits and vegetables raw. In this state, you will benefit from the fiber content without destroying the vitamins, minerals, and water content your food contains. Your other options are baking, steaming, frying, boiling, roasting, or sautéing. Let’s look at each of their pros and cons:
It’s never too late to change the way you shop. Acquiring a bit more supermarket savvy is so simple and can help you make better choices for your diet.
Avoid the End Caps – Ends caps are special displays set up by the marketing manager to attract you to products they want you to buy. More often than not, they’re not the healthiest choices you could make. Stick to your list and the outside edges of the store for the fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy and give the inner aisles a miss.
Shop More Often – Making a couple more trips to the market each week accomplishes a few different things; it gets you out of the house more often, possibly to meet up with friends for coffee before or after shopping. Shopping with a friend lets you both take advantage of larger lot bargains by splitting them between you. Shopping more often allows you to stock fresher products in your home for shorter periods of time. It also allows you to take advantage of short-term offers in flyers while they’re on sale and possibly even come across “on-the-spot”, unadvertised specials.
Learn to Read the Nutrition Label – If you’re going to be in the market more often, it’s beneficial to learn how to read a nutrition label properly. There’s so much information on there if you just know where to look. For an in-depth description of how to read a nutritional label, CLICK HERE.
Always Look For The Date – Product dates are important to take note of, especially on foods that can spoil quickly. Buy smaller portions to avoid this but always check for the following:
- “Sell By” tells how long the store can sell foods like meat, poultry, eggs, or milk products.
- “Use By” tells how long the food will be at peak quality.
- “Best By” tells how long the food has the best flavor or quality.3
Seniors and Digestion
Where It All Begins
A healthy digestive system is crucial to overall good health as it’s this system which takes the food we eat and breaks it down into the raw materials our body uses to maintain itself. Certain nutrients, such as protein and vitamins, should always be present in our daily diet in order for our digestive system to run at peak efficiency. As seniors, additional elements such as daily recommended amounts of fiber and water are even more essential to maintain a healthy digestive system.
Digestion occurs in five detailed steps every time we eat.
Let’s take a look at what each one involves.
Step One – Where It All Begins
Ingestion is a two-step process consisting of mechanical and chemicaldigestion, assisted by the accessory digestive organs. In the mechanical portion of the process, your teeth, and to some extent, your tongue are the first of the accessory organs to engage. Mechanical digestion is simply the process of breaking your food apart by chewing your food and rolling it around in your mouth with your tongue. As you chew your food and roll it around, another accessory digestive organ, the salivary glands, come into play. These glands begin to release saliva, which helps lubricate your food and is laden with digestive enzymes. As these enzymes begin pouring into your mouth, they begin to facilitate the next step of the process, chemical digestion.
Chemical digestion occurs because of all the different enzymes in our saliva and their various roles in targeting specific foods for chemical breakdown, such as lipase to break down fats and amylase to break down starch.
What This Means For Seniors
As we age, our body loses some of its ability to regulate fluid levels. This makes it important to drink water throughout the day to maintain hydration, but specifically to sip water with meals to assist with food lubrication and help avoid constipation. If you have difficulty chewing, you may wish to visit your dentist and speak with them about the problem and ask about solutions that are right for you. You can still maintain fiber intake if you have problems chewing by choosing softer options which might include cooked grains such as oatmeal, quinoa, barley, brown rice, and couscous.
Step Two – Rolling Along
Once you’ve chewed your food one hundred times as your mother always instructed, the masticated food in your mouth is now ready to be swallowed. Once swallowed, it is referred to as a bolus and begins the journey along your esophagus to the stomach thanks to a process called peristalsis.
Peristalsis is defined as “alternating waves of contraction and relaxation” in the walls of your esophagus, which squeezes the food along the tract. After this tossing, turning, and churning through your esophagus, the bolus arrives at, and moves through, the esophageal hiatus; the opening into the stomach from the esophagus.
The action of transporting food through the esophagus is controlled by your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This system is also known as the “rest and digest” system because you actually digest better when at rest. The neural sensors of the PNS involved in your digestive reflexes are located in the walls
of every one of your gastro-intestinal tract (digestive system) organs.
What This Means For Seniors
Digestive activity, controlled by reflexes via the PNS, respond to a number of stimuli, the most important being (1) the stretch of an organ (stomach, intestine) by food, (2) the pH of the contents, and (3) the presence of certain breakdown products of digestion. When these receptors are activated they start reflexes that either inspire or prevent (1) the secretion of digestive juices and (2) the smooth muscles contraction and relaxation that propels food along the tract.
Because peristalsis relies on muscles and nerves that are functioning properly, it’s important to include the nutrients in your diet that support nerves and muscles, namely potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium. These four minerals are essential to the transmission of nerve impulses which tell the muscles when to contract and when to relax. A deficiency in any of these minerals interferes with the transmission of nerve and muscle impulses. In addition, potassium works with sodium to control the body’s water balance. A deficiency in sodium can result in muscular weakness.
Step Three – A Work In Progress
Once the bolus enters the stomach, chemical breakdown continues. If you’ve still got food on your plate, the sight, smell, and taste of this food further stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to increase the secretion of gastric juices. The smooth lining of the stomach is dotted with millions of deep gastric pits, which lead into gastric glands that secrete gastric juices. Gastric juices are highly acidic; in humans they are between a pH of 1 and 3 (7 being neutral, 14 being alkaline). They are close to colorless and contain enzymes that assist with the breakdown of food and the destruction of harmful bacteria.
It’s in your stomach that the bolus is turned into a creamy, paste-like substance of partially digested food, water, hydrochloric acid and various digestive enzymes, called chyme. (pronounced k-ime). Depending on how much you’ve eaten, and how quickly you’ve managed to eat it, your stomach will digest the bolus into chyme in anywhere between forty minutes to a few hours. While still in your stomach, peristaltic waves mix and move the chyme. It is finally funneled through the pyloric valve into the duodenum, or the first subsection of your small intestine.
What This Means For Seniors
Eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day makes it easier for your stomach to completely digest your food. After all, any job, broken down into smaller tasks, is easier to complete. It’s especially important not to eat large meals too late into the evening as your body is already transitioning into its nocturnal detoxification cycle. If your body has to finish digesting a large meal before beginning its overnight maintenance routine, less time is devoted to detoxification and rebuilding. There is also the added risk of weight gain when you eat a large meal later in the evening. Try not to schedule anything strenuous after a large meal. This will allow your body to devote the resources to the stomach necessary to properly digest what you’ve just eaten.
Step Four – Taking It All In
Your duodenum is a busy place. Once the chyme passes into the duodenum, it is further acted upon by pancreatic enzymes which complete the chemical breakdown of the chyme. Any fats in the chyme are further broken down by bile which enters the duodenum through the bile duct. The duodenum is the first and foremost site of absorption of nutrients from the chyme by tremendously absorptive surfaces called microvilli, villi, and circular folds designed to increase the surface area for maximum absorption. To read more about villi, CLICK HERE. To read the full article on celiac disease and villi, CLICK HERE.
Once again, our body relies on the good old “squeeze and squish” peristaltic action to move food through the length of the small intestine. By the time food reaches the end of the small intestine, all that is left is some water, indigestible bits (fiber), and large amounts of bacteria which is metabolized by the friendly neighbourhood bacteria who reside in the large intestine. These same bacteria are also responsible for metabolizing vitamin K and some B vitamins which are absorbed by the large intestine, along with some of the remaining water.
What This Means For Seniors
If you have been diagnosed with impaired digestion, or suffer with bloating, heartburn and other signs of poor digestion, there are a few things you can do to help your intestines do their job. Taking an enzyme supplement such as Natural Factors Multi Enzyme Full Spectrum High Potency Capsules is an excellent option for assistance with all aspects of digestion. To assist and replenish the beneficial bacteria in your intestines, you might consider Natural Factors Ultimate Multi Probiotic. This powerful multi strain has a 12-strain blend with a minimum of 12 billion live cells, including 8 lactobacilli species and one lactococcus species for ultimate health of the full length of the small intestine, as well as 3 bifidobacteria species for the health of the large intestine.
Fiber and water are also important for moving the contents of the small and large intestine along. When the diet lacks bulk, the colon narrows and its circular muscles contract more powerfully, which increases the pressure on its walls. This encourages formation of diverticula, in which the mucosa protrudes through the colon walls, a condition called diverticulosis. Diverticulitis, a condition in which the diverticula become inflamed, can be very serious if ruptures occur.4
Step Five – The End Result
Elimination begins in the large intestine. Indigestible substances are propelled by a combination of peristaltic and mass movements (long, slow-moving but powerful contractile waves) to the end of their journey. Fiber and water in the diet increase the effectiveness of these movements, soften the stool, and allow the colon to successfully complete its work.
Conditions and Diseases
Malnutrition and Malabsorption
Barron’s Dictionary of Medical Terms defines malnutrition as the “state of poor nutrition, resulting from an insufficient, excessive, or unbalanced diet or from impaired ability to absorb and assimilate foods.” How malnutrition creeps into play may seem straightforward enough, however there are a few more variables to consider than merely inadequate nutritional intake:
|1. Decreased appetite due to illness
2. Trouble with eating/swallowing/dental issues
3. Medications which lower appetite
4. Difficulty with absorbing nutrients
5. Diminished sense of taste/smell
8. Restricted diets (low sodium)
9. Limited income
10. Lack of social contact
Be aware of changes that can occur, particularly after a life-altering event (such as the loss of a loved one), which might signal the onset of malnutrition such as a more-than-average decline in weight, a longer-than-average time to heal from injury/surgery, an increase in bruising, and ongoing dental difficulties. If a change in medication is required, it’s best to monitor how this new medication seems to affect appetite. As well, many drugs can affect digestion and nutrient absorption. It’s best to speak with the primary health care provider if you notice any of these changes in yourself or a loved one.
Malabsorption or malabsorption syndrome is the inability to absorb nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from the intestinal tract into the bloodstream and can be caused by any number of factors, including diseases of the intestine itself, absence or low levels of digestive enzymes, diseases of the pancreas, intestinal parasites, changes/deficiencies/overgrowths of intestinal bacteria, and surgery. It can lead to affected growth, development, and specific illnesses. Symptoms include weight loss, bloating, cramping, gas, bulky stools, chronic diarrhea, and muscle wasting. Your best course of action is consultation with your primary health care provider. Once a diagnosis is made as to what is causing the malabsorption, your primary health care provider will prescribe a course of action that’s right for you.
A diet that fails to provide adequate intakes of calcium and vitamin D can cause problems for your bones. These two nutrients go hand-in-hand because your bones cannot absorb the calcium they need without vitamin D being present. Couple this fact with a lack of physical activity, certain medications, and lower hormone levels (especially in women after menopause), and you leave the door open for osteoporosis to creep in. Calcium and vitamin D supplements are one way to ensure adequate intake, along with eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D. For a full list of these foods, CLICK HERE.
Blood Pressure and Heart Disease
When talking about nutrition and the cardiovascular system, four important nutrients come into play. Getting your daily recommended intake of vitamin D, potassium, magnesium, and calcium is important when trying to keep your blood pressure numbers in the safe zone. Potassium works with sodium to control the body’s water balance. This is of particular importance to people who take diuretics for high blood pressure as they may be losing a great deal of potassium in their urine.
A diet high in unhealthy fats, coupled with inactivity, can lead to weight gain which, in turn, can lead to higher blood pressure. Literally, on the other end of the scale, losing too much weight as a result of malnutrition can reduce blood pressure leading to feeling faint and/or light-headedness which can increase your risk for falls. Magnesium aids in the transmission of nerve impulses and a deficiency can lead to feelings of dizziness.
When your blood pressure is too high for too long, it can lead to cardiovascular issues. If this happens, calcium and potassium intake become important as they are necessary for maintaining a regular heart rhythm. Make sure you’re also getting enough magnesium, as it aids in the uptake of calcium and potassium and vitamin D needs to be present for adequate calcium uptake. You can now see how all four of these nutrients need to be present, in the recommended daily amounts, to ensure the health of your cardiovascular system.
Celiac disease is not, per se, a direct result of diet or nutrition although it is inextricably linked to what you eat. To read the full explanation of celiac disease, CLICK HERE or visit the Celiac Lifestyle chapter of the Nexus.
Nutrition after 50 – Printable Pamphlet
Everyday Healthy Eating – Sample Menus and Recipes
Using the Nutrition Facts Label
Literally compare apples and oranges! Food-A-Pedia
Supertracker – My Foods, My Fitness, My Health
Choosing Nutrient Dense Foods
Eating for Health