As people age, the need for high quality nutrition increases, but the amount of food does not. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Eating less is better and healthier for us as we age. Consuming smaller amounts of food more frequently is better for the digestion system and blood sugar levels.
A small clinical study looked into whether eating a lower caloric diet might contribute to healthier aging. The answer is yes, eating fewer calories can improve biomarkers that may contribute to slower aging and a longer life. A biomarker is part of a DNA sequence that can indicate the presence of disease. Simply put, when biomarkers improve, health improves. The study found that when study participants ate 15 percent fewer calories, they “developed a lower core body temperature, lower blood sugar and insulin levels, and significant drops in hormones that moderate metabolism”.
The research was conducted at Pennington Biomedical Research in Baton Rouge, La. Thirty-four people in good health, with an average age of 40, followed a calorie-restricted diet. Researchers taught them how to cut their caloric intake by 25 percent. Participants succeeded in reducing their intake by 15 percent and maintaining it for two years, something researchers called “pretty remarkable”. Most of the people participating in the study lost about 20 pounds the first year, even though they were of average weight or only modestly overweight. In addition, scientists found that participants exhibited “changes in metabolism and body processes mirroring those that have been linked to longer life span in animals and people. Lower calorie intake prompts the body to use energy more efficiently, and that somehow results in benefits for aging.”
Other scientists warn that a 15 or 25 percent reduction in caloric intake is not feasible, nor desirable for most people. They say these studies should not be taken literally, rather, as increased insights into aging and the factors that impact it. They say the most important point of this research is the information it provides scientists so they can develop more effective strategies to improve aging.
Healthy serving sizes
One may not be able to cut one’s caloric intake by 15 or 25 percent, but the lesson is well taken. Reducing caloric intake is better for the body in general. Anything that reduces blood sugar levels can help to avoid diabetes. Now we know that it may also improve aging, which is certainly an added benefit.
The easiest way to reduce calories is to reduce portion sizes. Here are recommended healthy portion sizes for adults.
- Steak: the size of an iPhone or a deck of cards
- Pancake: the size of a CD
- Pasta and brown rice: the size of a baseball
- Piece of cheese: the size of your thumb
- Nuts: the size of the palm of your hand
The average restaurant serving today is four times larger than it was in 1955, and the population is 26 pounds heavier. It’s not hard to see the connection between the amount we eat and the amount we weigh.
Helping your elderly loved one to eat the right portion sizes is helping them to age more healthfully. If you prepare food for your loved one, it will be easy to serve them healthy portions. When combined with healthy snacks, hunger should not be an issue. If your loved one prepares his or her own meals and tends to overeat, especially on sweets and snacks, there are other ways to control portions.
- Buy pre-packaged snacks that some in single servings
- Buy smaller bowls for ice cream and put them in the cupboard
- Buy tupperware or other containers in a smaller size so that leftovers are automatically stored in smaller portions
Controlling portions is easier than counting calories or trying to change your loved one’s diet. Food is a source of joy and community for many and the sum of a lifetime of habits for most. It helps to remember what Julia Child, the famous American chef, once said about eating. She had a healthy philosophy about food and said one should eat, “…small helpings, no seconds, no snacking, and a little bit of everything”.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.