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Eating for Healthy Aging

By: Ashleigh G. Whittington | Mar 18, 2024

I’m guessing that most of you reading this don’t eat the same way you did when you were a kid. Or in your 20s, or your 30s…you get the idea. There’s a number of things I subsisted on that I no longer desire or would feel remotely fueled by. Examples include, but are not limited to: Pop Tarts, Runts, Lucky Charms, Lean Cuisines, and Red Bull. But there are plenty of mainstays: peanut butter, yogurt, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Duncan Hines brownies (still the best ones out there, in my opinion). These foods fill me with nostalgia and every time I eat them I am transported back to another time, a memory, and feeling, and it’s a lovely experience. The foods in the first list I look at more as “how did I ever like those things?!”. Our taste buds, nutritional needs, and life circumstances all shape our food choices through the years, and our diets shift depending on how we address those things. The foods you wanted and needed at a certain time in your life may not be the foods you want and need at this stage in your life, which makes sense given how our bodies evolve over time. Let’s talk about what some of those evolutions are and what you might consider prioritizing when it comes to meeting the nutritional needs of your current age and beyond.


What happens when we age?


Aging is a normal biological process that brings with it a host of changes and adaptations. These include:

  • Body composition: Fat mass increases and lean muscle mass decreases, potentially leading to sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass, strength, and function. The good news is, strength training and weight bearing exercises helps combat sarcopenia, so keep up with those workouts! Sarcopenia can affect our quality of life by decreasing mobility, increasing the risk for falls, and altering metabolic rates (Mahan & Escott-Stump, 1996).
  • Taste and smell: These lose sensitivity as we age, and can also be affected by some medications. Lower taste and smell responses can lead us to overseason food and thus consume excess salt, and may also have a negative metabolic effect because the saliva and gastric juices produced by the stimulation of taste and smell are lowered (Mahan & Escott-Stump, 1996).
  • Gastrointestinal changes: These can include things like difficulty swallowing, insufficient production of stomach acid (required to digest our food, prevent ulcers, and absorb vitamin B12), diverticulosis, and constipation.
  • Cardiovascular: The muscles in the heart tend to weaken and our maximum heart rate decreases, increasing the risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Another reason to keep doing your cardio, whether it's going for a walk or taking an aerobics class, your heart will thank you!

How nutrition can support healthy aging

I don't point out all of these things to be a bummer, but instead to remind you that if you already have experienced these changes you are not along and that it's a typical pattern of aging, but also to let you know that because of these changes, you can be informed about where to place your nutritional focus in order to ameliorate or support each one. Here are a few nutrients you may benefit from increasing, or at least reconsidering your current relationship to:

  1. Protein: Getting adequate protein is important for building muscle to reduce the risk of sarcopenia. One study that spanned 14 years found that 21% of women and 13% of men over age 70 did not consume enough protein to meet their needs. A general guideline is 1g/kg of body weight to determine your protein needs, but always speak with your doctor first if you have any kidney conditions as this could alter how much protein you can safely consume.
  2. Calcium: This mineral is important for building and maintaining bone health, something that declines naturally as we age and has the potential to develop into osteoporosis. Good sources include leafy greens, almonds, tofu, figs, yogurt, cheese, and salmon.
  3. Choline: This micronutrient plays a crucial role in neurotransmission and cell signaling. Adequate levels in the diet can support the brain as we age and prevent changes in brain chemistry that result in cognitive decline. Good sources of choline include eggs (especially the yolks), broccoli, quinoa, peanuts, potatoes, and Shitake mushrooms.
  4. B6: A deficiency of this vitamin is associated with impaired metabolic processes, which can lead to increased risk of sarcopenia, frailty, and chronic diseases like heart disease and certain cancers. Good sources include cereals, fish, organ meats, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, legumes, bananas, avocados and egg yolks.
  5. Omega-3 fatty acids: Mammals are unable to make these fatty acids on their own, which are important for managing inflammation, cell signaling, and gene expression, so they must be consumed through food. They are of particular importance for reducing the risk for cognitive decline because these fats make up around 25% of the total fatty acids in the cerebral cortex, 50% of fats in the central nervous system, and they are a major fatty acid within the grey matter of the brain. Additionally, the anti-inflammatory effects of Omega-3s may be helpful in preventing loss in muscle mass (sarcopenia) and may also modulate how well our muscles utilize protein, helping us get stronger and prevent frailty. Good sources include cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines, chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseeds, as well as their oils.


So many things change with the passage of time, and many of them are out of our control. Understanding your body’s needs and desires, as well as the needs and desires of your life as a whole, can be helpful when making choices for what to eat. I didn’t have time in this piece to include specifics on gender differences, like how nutritional needs change during menopause for women and during men’s changing testosterone levels (perhaps that’s another post, or even a workshop!) but I hope these few general suggestions can help inform your eating choices and maybe help you look inward and discover what your unique needs are. I look forward to sharing more info with you next week and, as always, please reach out if you’re interested in working with me on an individualized approach to your health.



  1. Mahan, L. K. and Escott-Stump, S. Krause’s Food, Nutrition and Diet Therapy, 9th edition. 1996. W.B. Saunders Co.


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