Food as Medicine: Diet Choices to Optimize Your Body
Food is the fuel our bodies use every minute of every day. When we fuel up our vehicles, we only have one choice: gasoline. Our body’s fuel, however, comes in a mind boggling array of variety, and with the modern landscape of food technology leading to more new foodstuffs, making good choices can be intimidating.
Luckily, once we separate food from industry, things can become a lot less confusing. Seniors’ dietary needs are not drastically different from other age groups, aside from a few important considerations, but let’s talk about the basics first.
Variety: The Spice of Life
It’s hard not to fall into habits with food, especially if one is living a predictable life. After all, who doesn’t like to rely on things they know? While this may be an understandable compulsion, as our age creeps up a fundamental truth of human physiology becomes more and more apparent: our bodies need a wide variety of food intake to make our bodies work properly. Our bodies are complex, and do a lot of things all at once, so we need to make choices that provide the right fuel for the right biological systems.
The basic currency of our bodies is quite simple: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. These are the basic building blocks that our cells are made of, and they should be eaten in balance. Though our food system has given us very easy access to a wide variety of delicious carbohydrates, these are very high impact food that our body doesn’t need very much of to stay functional. Healthy fats (grass fed dairy and butter, extra virgin olive oil, organic lard, avocados) are a critical, long lasting fuel for our bodies, and proteins are the literal physical building blocks of our muscles and organs, so those are the more worthy of focus when deciding on diets.
Vitamins and minerals are less obvious, occur in much smaller quantities, but are still very important considerations. These substances tend to be used in more specialized body functions and generally enable the conversion of fats, proteins and carbohydrates into the usable substances your body needs. Certain vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, C and A, and calcium and iron are commonly known and critical to body function, and they do not come from one single food source.
Where food variety becomes to most critical is for less common minerals like manganese, copper, chromium and iodide. These minerals are only needed in trace amounts, but they are still used by the body all the time and need to be maintained. Generally these minerals are available in leafy green vegetables, nuts and legumes, or sometimes in particular seafoods.
Whole Foods: Not Just a Cute Store
Though vitamin supplements are useful tools, and should absolutely be used for an aging body, they should not be considered a main source of essential vitamins and minerals. When taken in isolation, vitamins often lack other critical substances which are used in the process of absorption and incorporation into the body, so oftentimes a large percentage of the vitamins ingested are lost and wasted.
Nature has provided these critical elements of our diet in forms that are complete and come with the necessary companion substances needed to properly absorb these vitamins and minerals. As a general rule, eating whole foods with minimal processing (just enough to heat up and serve, really) will give you a great baseline of important ingredients for a healthy body that you will only need to supplement in particulars ways based on your doctor’s tests and advice.
Foods that come in boxes and packaging generally have been put through a number of industrial processes and have been changed substantially from their natural forms, so the body often does not have the balance of additional material it needs to properly absorb the food-like substances that are in these industrial foods.
There are absolutely certain dietary elements worth focusing on with age. Two related vitamins are calcium and vitamin D, in an effort to fight off osteoporosis and other skeletal degenerative conditions. Again, though there is nothing wrong with vitamin supplements, and they should be utilized, the best favour one can do for oneself is to eat whole foods known to contain not only vitamin D and calcium, but also magnesium. Green leafy vegetables and avocados are sources of magnesium, dairy and eggs contain vitamin D and calcium. And of course, when it comes to vitamin D, the best way to incorporate that into your body is through plenty of sunshine, which induces your body to create its own vitamin D.
Fibre is another critical dietary element for seniors, since it maintains energy levels, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Fibre is not truly digestible for the body, but it is important to consume because it takes up space in our stomachs and makes us feel full, as well as maintaining our body’s digestive process at a healthy pace. Fibre acts a bit like a sponge for other substances in food, making the digestive system take longer to break down and utilize the fuel in our food. This keeps us from over eating, and also absorbs waste nutrients to go along with our bowel movements and keep our digestive tract clean and uncluttered.
Topics: Food, Health, Seniors