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How does nutrition affect the aging process?

Do you ever stop to think about the impact of what you eat and its effect on your age? Perhaps not, but the reality is that the way we eat throughout the course of our lives affects the way we age. According to science, a healthy diet is fundamental to optimal health. Those wondering how to start eating better can focus on a nutritious, balanced diet made up of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and lean proteins. Similarly, intake of sugar, salt, saturated and trans-fats, and alcoholic beverages should be limited.

By focusing on fueling your body properly, you can improve your health, reduce the risk of disease, and increase the number of years you live in good health. Fortunately, it’s never too late to start making improvements. In this Pacific Prime Latin America article, we explore how nutrition affects aging and offer a few tips to help you get started.

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The role of nutrition in healthy aging

Even though human life expectancy has approximately doubled since the start of the Victorian era, the increase in years also often comes with disease and disability. In fact, an aging population is one of the key drivers shaping health insurance premiums across the globe – as mentioned in our Cost of Health Insurance Report 2020-2021. By placing a heavy burden on healthcare systems, an aging population drives up the cost of healthcare. Consequently, insurance premiums increase to support the cost of treating elderly members of the population as they develop health conditions like:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Dementia
  • Respiratory tract infections

Healthy aging is not only important for an individual’s quality of life, but for global healthcare systems as well. Essentially, there’s no better time than now for these demographics to accelerate their understanding of the role nutrition plays in healthy aging.

Aging and its effect on nutrition

It’s helpful to see aging as a process – one that’s gradual and inconsistent and less about biological age than we’re led to believe. Cellular and molecular damage gradually accumulates over time, thereby increasing the risk of age-related disorders. Therefore, healthy aging doesn’t just mean being free of disease, but rather integrative health – or optimal health and wellness.

Nutrition is a key factor that can determine healthy aging. Age-related changes (e.g. physiological and sociocultural) can affect nutritional status, leading to issues like:

  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Nutrient absorption
  • Sensory impairment (e.g. loss of taste and vision)
  • Poor oral health
  • Loss of mobility
  • Disability (such as through loss of muscle mass)
  • Immunocompetence changes

Additionally, the elderly experience various changes that can impact the immune system. Low-grade chronic inflammation and lower response to vaccination are typical. Combine these changes and more with factors such as lifestyle and environment, and it’s hardly surprising that the elderly are more susceptible to infections than other age groups (with the exception of young children). Infection significantly impacts nutrition status, growing the risk of malnutrition through loss of appetite and malabsorption issues, to name a few.

How nutrition can promote healthy aging

Aging and nutrition work the other way around too, as nutrients (i.e. macro/micro) play an integral role in keeping physiologically healthy. Since the aging process is malleable, nutrition and lifestyle interventions could potentially advance healthy aging and lower the risk of non-communicable disease. Along with protein malnutrition, some of the most common nutrient deficiencies amongst the elderly include:

  • Vitamins B9, B12, C, and D
  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Selenium

While results from trials for interventions targeting single nutrients have been rather inconsistent, evidence suggests that the positive effects can be witnessed in those who were most deficient at the start. With that said, a Mediterranean diet that focuses on nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich foods and incorporates polyunsaturated fatty acids could support healthy aging.

Tips to start eating better and aging well

While changing your eating habits can sound daunting, the truth is that small changes can already reduce your risk of many age-related diseases. Here are some simple tips to bear in mind.

Eat more dark-colored fruits and vegetables

According to a study, a cup of blueberries a day can help lower blood pressure. But fret not if you can’t get your daily serving of them, as dark-colored fruits and vegetables are just as good for your health. Think dark leafy greens like kale and spinach or other dark fruits such as cherries, plums, and pomegranate. These darker fruits and veggies are packed with nutrients, carotenoids, and fiber.

Steer clear of processed meats and food

Several studies link eating processed meats and poor health. Processed meat consumption is associated with chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and bowel and stomach cancer. Along with processed meat, processed foods, in general, are worth staying away from. Fast foods, junk food, frozen meals, and things that are labeled “low-fat” or “sugar-free” are often heavily processed.

Remember the single ingredient rule

While this rule is similar to the one above, it’s a simple tip that can make it easy for you to eat healthily. When shopping for food, select those with just one ingredient for most of your calories. While an energy bar has a long list of ingredients, the following are examples of foods with just one ingredient:

  • Walnut
  • Apple
  • Broccoli
  • Potato
  • Turkey

Now, you don’t have to eat single ingredient foods for the rest of your life, but it pays to know what you’re putting into your body and why. Take time to read labels when shopping for cereal, sauces, or dips and you’ll soon realize how much healthier it is to make your own or find a better alternative. As the saying goes, life is a series of choices – and the healthy choices you make today can prevent age from affecting your quality of life.

Make health a priority with Pacific Prime Latin America

One of the best ways to start prioritizing your health no matter how old you are is by securing health insurance. With a comprehensive health insurance plan, you can experience the peace of mind that comes with knowing your medical needs can be met at any time. Plus, you don’t have to worry about paying for hefty hospital bills out of pocket.

Whether you’re looking for individual health insurance plans for expats, retiree health insurance in Mexico, or other health insurance plans, Pacific Prime Latin America is here to help. As a global health insurance brokerage, we have over two decades of experience helping expats secure the right health insurance plan for their needs and budget. We also offer plenty of support and value-added services so you can get the most out of any plan.

Contact us for impartial advice or a free plan comparison today!

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Senior Copywriter at Pacific Prime Latin America
Jantra Jacobs is a Senior Copywriter at Pacific Prime with over 10 years of writing and editing experience. She writes and edits a diverse variety of online and offline copy, including sales and marketing materials ranging from articles and advertising copy to reports, guides, RFPs, and more.

Jantra curates and reports on the results of Pacific Prime’s monthly newsletters, as well as manages Pacific Prime’s Deputy Global CEO’s LinkedIn posts. Complemented by her background in business writing, Jantra’s passion for health, insurance, and employee benefits helps her create engaging content - no matter how complex the subject is.

Growing up as a third-culture kid has given her a multicultural perspective that helps her relate to expats and their families while 8 years of working remotely have given her unique insight into hybrid work arrangements and enthusiasm for employee benefits.
Jantra Jacobs