It’s not like 50 is a magical age when everything changes, but as we age it becomes more tricky to keep our lowering need for calories in line with our increasing need for vitamins. To maintain good health as we grow into our 50’s, finding nutrient dense food becomes more … ahem… important.
Our requirements for vitamins are a cause for concern for many of us, and for good reason. Vitamins are not like calories, you can’t tell if you are getting enough, too many, or too few before it becomes a problem.
Vitamins are also unlike calories in that there are calories in all the food we eat, but a lot of the foods we eat are so poor in vitamins, they may as well not claim to have them. But we need a steady supply of vitamins to ensure we get enough of them, especially where water-soluble vitamins are concerned, as these leave our bodies in a matter of days and we need to keep them constantly topped up.
This is especially difficult as we grow older, because our need for vitamins increases and our ability to get them decreases. As our metabolism slows down (even if we exercise) we can be tempted to eat less and less of the same food. A big problem with that is that many of us were barely getting the vitamins we needed, or not getting them at all. So when we eat two thirds the usual amount of food, but don’t improve nutrient quality, we are consuming fewer vitamins.
Consider too that our bodies become less able to absorb vitamins as we age.
Between reduced ability to digest and absorb fats, which limits fat soluble vitamins, and less effective gut transit and bacteria, which limits water soluble vitamins, we just aren’t receiving as many vitamins per bite as in our youth. And finally, being older we need many more vitamins than ever before, to keep our cells in healthy condition and delay the effects of ageing.
Naturally, we can’t just carry on like this, eating the same junk we did in our thirties, not eating enough of it, and absorbing it badly. This will just wear us down from the inside out, make our cells age faster, accelerate the effects of ageing, and make us very ill in a few short years. So what are we to do instead?
Simple: focus on nutritional density.
Nutritional density is the number of nutrient we get for the calorie in our food. The higher the nutritional density, the more vitamins and minerals we get for fewer calories. This may seem confusing at first, as highly nutritious foods like coconut are low on this scale… because of the sheer number of calories they contain, whereas blander foods like cabbage are high on this scale because they have a load of nutrients per 100 calories.
But this is the way that makes the most sense when we are older. Chances are, our digestion is poorer, and our calorific requirements are lower. We do much better eating medium-sized, frequent, low calorie meals that are rich in vitamins and minerals. Medium-sized because we still need some calories, but low calorie because we are eating a lot of them. Frequent because we need to keep adding vitamins and minerals into our bodies, to ensure that some get absorbed. And high in vitamins and minerals because we don’t want to eat a lot of calories, but we want a lot of nutrition. Say it with me… “Nutrient Dense”.
To accomplish this, we need to know which are the most nutrient-dense foods out there.
Vitamin A may be present in fruits like mangoes and vegetables like sweet potato, but for the least calories and most vitamins choose pumpkins and squashes.
B vitamins are most easily found in meats. However, the meats which contain them all tend to be fatty and high calorie. To get a good mix of B vitamins, consume plenty of lentils and lean white meats, which should provide a balance for a fewer calories.
If you’re looking for vitamin C, it can be easy to turn to sweet fruits like oranges, famous for their vitamin C levels. But a lower calorie option is red and yellow bell peppers, and the most nutrient dense of them all are brassicas, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale.
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin, which means we need to eat it in a fatty, high calorie food to make the most of it. Choose three handfuls of nuts or seeds for your full recommended amount, but bear in mind the calories they add. Calorie for calorie, spinach is also great for vitamin E.
Keep an eye on your food quality. It matters. Eat nutrient dense food.