September 1st 2015
As a nutrition and lifestyle coach I advise people on ways to improve their health and well-being.
Whatever age you are I believe taking responsibility and investing time in your own health is one of most important things you can do. Many people don’t think about diet and lifestyle until they suffer an illness, have an injury or have weight related problems, often blaming these things on ‘getting old.’ However, the good news is it’s never too late to embark on improving your health! I will discuss how making some simple changes to your diet and lifestyle could mean increased energy, less risk of disease and illness, less reliance on medications and doctors and ultimately more enjoyment in life.
The UK has an increasing ageing population with more people aged 60 and above than there are aged 18 and under. The numbers of age related diseases such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, dementia and cancer are continuing to rise, however numerous studies show that by making improvements in dietary and lifestyle habits you needn’t fall victim to ‘getting old!’
Part 1 – Nutrition
All food contains varying amounts of ‘Macronutrients’ or as we know them; carbohydrates, proteins and fats. With those Macronutrients come ‘Micronutrients’ or vitamins and minerals.
These macro and micro nutrients provide our cells with the fuel needed for our bodies to run efficiently. A ‘healthy’ diet is one that provides the most efficient source of fuel, that is easy to digest and that suits that particular individual’s needs. An added bonus is that it tastes nice!
Depending on your age, activity levels, previous and present health conditions and even emotional/mental state you will need varying amounts of these macro and micro nutrients on a daily basis.
Carbohydrates – The primary source of energy for your body. There are two types of carbohydrates:
1.Simple sugars such as fruit, honey, table sugar and dairy. 2.Complex sugars which include grains, starchy vegetables and legumes. Protein – This is formed from amino acids which are important for:
1.Aiding in growth and repair of body tissue (muscle tissue, hair, nails) 2.Forming essential compounds that work to regulate body chemistry; enzymes, haemoglobin, insulin, thyroid hormone and others. 3.Transporting nutrients and detoxifying waste and drugs. 4.Help maintain acid/alkaline balance. 5.Form antibodies. Animal proteins include; meat, poultry, offal, fish, eggs, dairy and gelatin. Vegetable proteins include; beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and soy. Fat – Essential in the diet because;
1.It aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. 2.Plays a key role in brain development and health. 3.Cushions the organs and helps protect them against injury and trauma. 4.Helps maintain body temperature and insulates the nerves allowing them to function optimally. 5. Makes food taste nice!
There are three general categories of fats; saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Saturated fatty acids remain solid at room temperature, they include; Coconut oil, heavy cream, butter and animal tallow. These are the best fats for cooking. Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and should not be heated. These fats include olive oil and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and consist of vegetable and seed oils such as; safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean, cottonseed, peanut and canola oil. These are highly unstable and susceptible to oxidation and free-radical formation. When heated they turn into toxic fat that can be extremely harmful to the body affecting energy production at the cellular level. Now we know what the macronutrients are we can decide which ‘types’ of the macronutrients are the most healthy for us in terms of providing energy and being easy to digest and absorb.
Some guidelines when deciding what to eat;
1. Eat real food (organic and seasonal where possible) – Eating food in its whole form; meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and dairy products means you automatically avoid all the preservatives, flavourings and additives that are used in processed foods, making choosing what to eat a lot easier. 2. Eat a source of carbohydrate, fat and protein at each meal using the following examples;
Carbohydrates – Seasonal fruits and root vegetables such as squash, beets, parsnips, potatoes. Grains such as well soaked oats and white rice tend to be easier to digest than gluten containing grains such as wheat. For this reason I recommend that you avoid foods containing gluten such as bread, crackers, biscuits and pastries, pies and cakes. Proteins – Lamb, beef, pork, poultry, fish, shell fish, offal, eggs, dairy, legumes and beans. Fats – Animal fats, coconut oil (now widely available in most supermarkets), cocoa/chocolate and olive oil. Avoid trans-fats and Polyunsaturated fats (listed above) where possible. This includes anything listed as ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil’ or ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil.’ These are toxic to the body and responsible for many diseases and illness.
3. Eat easy to digest foods – The body produces hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes which are needed to help break down food. With ageing the amount of these substances is reduced which can result in bloating, gas, constipation, fatigue after eating and other digestive problems. To help ease any digestive problems I recommend; 4. Avoiding gluten found in most processed foods. 5. Cooking starchy vegetables such as potatoes for at least 30 minutes to make them easier to digest. 6. Use cuts of meat that are cooked for a long time at a low temperature such as lamb shank and oxtail as well as stews, over fried steak and processed meats. 7. Include moderate amounts of fat in your diet to improve digestion. 8. Chew your food thoroughly before swallowing. 9. Drink a glass of water at least 15 minutes before eating and then wait at least 30 minutes before drinking after eating. 10. Eat regular meals – Leaving long gaps between meals can cause blood sugar dysregulation. This can mean feeling dizzy, spacey, loss of concentration and mood changes including anxiety and depression. I recommend eating 3 or 4 meals a day comprised of carbohydrate, fat and protein to balance blood sugar levels. Eat to satisfaction rather than overly full or leaving the table still hungry. 11. Drink fluids (preferably not just alcohol!) – Your food intake does count towards your fluid intake, however caffeine such as tea and coffee can cause dehydration. I recommend drinking water throughout the day, however avoiding forcing yourself to drink. The benefits of coffee are widely researched and positive as it is a good source of magnesium and has also be found to be protective against dementia. Avoid drinking it black though, add milk or cream and sugar and help stabilise blood sugar. Some studies show that light to moderate drinking can reduce the risk of dementia however not everyone is equal so if you don’t feel good drinking alcohol don’t! Moderate consumption is no more than one drink a day for women and one to two for men. A drink is defined as 5oz wine, 12oz beer or 1.5oz spirits.
Improving your dietary habits can go a long way to improving your overall health and well-being. However your lifestyle habits and movement can also play a huge part in quality of life. For example researchers have found that a third of all cases of Alzheimer’s disease cases are preventable through changes to diet and lifestyle. Just by exercising, not smoking and finding ways to counter depression could mean you don’t become victim to ‘old age.’
Coming soon – part 2 of Elizabeth’s blog will focus on Exercise and Movement