How to eat from the age of 50
Life expectancy in Europe is increasing and, according to data from Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, between 2002 and 2018 it increased by 3.3 years, from 77.7 to 81.0 years. With the current demographic trend, in 10-15 years, all age groups from 50 will experience great growth. But living longer does not mean that the quality of life is better. Apart from genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle also play a determining role.
To this end, proper nutrition and physical activity positively influence aging, helping people not only to live longer, but to do so in a healthy, active and independent way. In this sense, your 50s represent a key moment. You gain a more transcendental view of life, but reality also shows us how some health problems begin to manifest or become more pronounced, and there is greater awareness of the changes in your body.
Now is the time to get really serious about your health. In addition, it is a stage of maturity in which you usually have more time to pay more attention to yourself and follow healthy habits.
Changes in your 50s
Lower caloric expenditure
With age, the total metabolic rate is reduced as a result of changes in body composition, by a decrease in lean mass (mainly muscles) and an increase in body fat. This translates into a lower energy requirement, and is especially evident after 50. It is necessary to eat less, exercise regularly and adapt your caloric intake to the needs of each stage. But not everyone takes this adaptation into account, and experiences weight gain that often ends in obesity. According to a study published by the European Commission in 2016, 51% of European adults were overweight, with 35% “pre-obese” and 15.9% obese.
When you enter your 50s, it is normal to feel some vertigo due to the hormonal changes that usually occur in this decade. Especially women, in whom the decrease in hormone production occurs more abruptly than in men. This hormonal decline triggers other changes, such as loss of bone and muscle mass, weight gain, the tendency to accumulate fat in the abdominal area, and the risk that this entails at the cardiovascular level.
Abdominal fat. Increased cardiovascular risk
The lack of time and the stress of your day-to-day life does not allow you to see how your body is changing. And it is at this stage that, one day, you suddenly discover that your abdominal area has a curvature that no longer corresponds to your idea of yourself. And your usual diet is no longer suitable. You need to take other measures, and permanently. It is not worth following a fleeting diet. You have to make a change in habits more adjusted to reality. The natural aging process and hormonal changes make your belly the favourite destination for fat and increase the risk of central obesity, with a higher concentration of fat in the abdominal area (perivisceral or intra-abdominal fat), closely related to cardiovascular risk factors and metabolic disorders, such as hypertension, dyslipidaemia, and hyperglycaemia.
Loss of muscle mass
The progressive decrease in muscle mass is another of the changes that accompany the aging process, which occurs gradually in men and more suddenly in women after menopause. With age, it can even develop into sarcopenia, an accelerated loss of muscle mass past 50. In fact, muscle deterioration begins earlier, around 40. This implies a reduction in strength, affecting physical condition, and even increasing the feeling of fatigue. For this reason, in addition to taking care of your diet, you must keep exercising to preserve muscle mass and strength.
Reduction in bone density is common, especially in women, who tend to be more affected than men as a result of menopause: it can cause accelerated bone loss and explains the high incidence of osteoporosis. You should pay attention to your daily intake of dairy products, practice moderate physical exercise and sometimes take vitamin D supplements.
Key dietary measures
• Caloric restriction. Adjust your caloric intake to your individual requirements taking into account physical activity and age, without forgetting that your diet must provide all the essential nutrients for your body to function properly.
• Protein intake. Sufficient protein intake is important for maintaining lean body mass and slowing down and preventing musculoskeletal conditions. Two servings a day of protein foods are recommended, one at lunch and one at dinner (meat, fish, eggs and vegetables), in addition to other contributions throughout the day in the form of dairy or other sources.
• Low fat and choose the healthiest. Fat is the most energy-dense nutrient, and taking too much can lead to excessive calorie intake, promoting excess weight and obesity. To avoid this, you must control the amount of fat you consume and, in addition, choose the most heart-healthy. It is extremely important to take care of the origin of dietary lipids. For this, you should reduce the consumption of foods rich in saturated and trans fats (fatty meats, charcuterie, whole dairy products, precooked products, industrial pastries, etc.) and prioritise those rich in unsaturated fatty acids (olive oil, blue fish, nuts, etc.).
• Reduce your sugar intake. The abusive consumption of sugar is related to an increase in obesity and diabetes. Excessive intake of refined sugars is also associated with dyslipidaemia such as hypertriglyceridemia, especially when ingested through foods that combine them with trans or saturated fats in bakery products. This carries an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
• Limit salt consumption. Excess salt in your diet is one of the main reasons for high blood pressure, which in turn is correlated with ischemic heart disease. Likewise, abusing salt favours the elimination of calcium through the urine, reducing the amount of calcium in the bones, and has a negative impact on renal filtration and the formation of stones. You should cook with little salt, and not add salt before trying the dishes.
• Ensure the supply of calcium and vitamin D. These two nutrients are essential for bone health. Calcium is one of the main minerals to maintain bone structure, and vitamin D favours its absorption at the intestinal level and helps in the renewal and mineralisation of bone tissue. Therefore, you must ensure they are part of your diet; and in case of deficiency, you must consider supplementation. Regular physical activity also plays an important role in maintaining healthy bones.