We’re all used to hearing about the importance of staying at a healthy weight. There’s no shortage of diets (fad and otherwise) and advice (valid and otherwise!) about staying trim and lean. We’ve been taught to associate health with the image of a person who is young and lean, curves and crevices airbrushed away and not an ounce of extra fat anywhere.
Unfortunately, our love affair with this image means some people routinely restrict calories to stay thin, regardless of their body type and dietary needs. Women who have restricted calories throughout life have a much higher risk of osteoporosis.
The one-size-fits-all message also ignores the fact that our nutritional needs change over time – and that carrying a little extra weight in your 60s and beyond may be a health positive. Ngaire Hobbins is a dietitian specialising in ageing and brain health. In her book Brain Body Food, Ngaire writes ‘The science is clear: once you are in your late 60s or beyond, weight loss diets are not good news. That’s because, from now on, losing weight by dieting—now means losing muscle. Losing muscle sets you up ill health and squanders your independence.’
Rather than pursuing weight loss diets that rob us of muscle mass, older people should focus on staying strong – and you can get stronger at any age! Maintaining muscle mass through strength training keeps bones strong, reduces the risk of falls, keeps us mobile and independent for longer, and helps with chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes. Muscle mass also drives our metabolism.
Ngaire Hobbins recommends that older adults pump up the protein in each meal. Protein doesn’t just mean meat – it can also come from dairy foods and plant sources such as nuts, seeds and grains. A protein hit straight after exercise also helps muscles recover and grow. For more details on how dietary needs change as we age, check out Ngaire Hobbin’s YouTube channel, which includes some easy and cheap recipes to boost your protein intake.
Finally, something that’s good for all of us, no matter our age, is eating more veggies. This week is nutrition week and Nutrition Australia are running a Tryfor5 campaign to inspire all Australians to eat more vegetables. They have some really great recipes to get you started.