Diet for seniors is just as important as it is for any demographic group. No matter if you are 27 or 77, the diet you choose can have a huge impact on overall health and fitness. The best diet for seniors and why it matters is not as confusing as some would make it seem.
It appears difficult to figure out what to do considering all the latest fad diet books that are weighing down the shelves of your favorite bookstore. Depending on who you choose to listen to, fat is bad, protein is bad, and carbohydrates are bad. It doesn’t really leave much choice, does it?
Did you ever notice that if you wait long enough someone will do a study that proves that even the most vilified food is good for you? For example, an argument can be made for chocolate, coffee, wine, eggs, and coconut oil, but at one time these items were considered bad for you.
I NEVER SAW A COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATE I DIDN’T LIKE
Yes, I know. That statement flies into the face of hundreds of diet books that state carbohydrates are the root of all evil and are the cause of obesity in North America.
I beg to differ, Atkins, Wheat Belly, Paleo, and Keto. The real cause of obesity is the unwillingness of many North Americans to do anything even resembling fitness. Walking from your big comfy chair to the fridge for another beer does not qualify as exercise.
I was a competitive endurance athlete for over 25 years and never met a complex carbohydrate I didn’t like in all that time. The cornerstones of my training and racing diet were pasta, brown rice, my very own homemade whole wheat bread, oatmeal, and potatoes. I also had a big salad at dinner time almost without fail.
Over the course of my career, I finished over 30 marathons, a couple of 50-mile races and 11 Ironman Triathlons using my choice of diet that was around 75% complex carbohydrates, 15% protein, and 10% fat. My race weight all those years was 150 pounds, give or take a pound. No matter how many complex carbohydrates I ate, I never gained weight.
There was a very good reason for this.
EARN YOUR CARBOHYDRATES
I never gained weight because I was earning my carbohydrates. By training hard and burning fuel I was able to replace the fuel I burned by eating more complex carbohydrates. I never gained any weight, because I was earning the right to eat carbohydrates by being so physically active.
All those diet books saying that state carbohydrates are bad are partially correct. However, it’s the fact that it’s a blanket comment that makes it wrong in many instances.
First of all, let’s determine the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates. The items that I mentioned that were the cornerstone of my training diet are all complex carbohydrates. They are called complex because they are assimilated into the bloodstream slowly.
Simple carbohydrates like candy, cookies, donuts, cake, pie, muffins, and dozens of other sweet items with little caloric value are called simple for a reason. They are assimilated into the bloodstream quickly. That’s the reason why you will sometimes feel a bit weak and dizzy after eating a lot of simple carbohydrates. I avoided simple carbohydrates completely during the years I was in training.
There is no doubt that sufficient protein is important for seniors in order to stay strong and fit. In those times when seniors feel like a sweet treat, consuming some protein first will help temper the flow of sugar into the bloodstream.
THE MYSTICAL MARATHON WALL
Marathon runners know full well what the “wall” is when it comes to marathons.
Complex carbohydrates are converted to glucose. Glucose is basically the fuel that enables us to keep going. Without glucose, a person will get very dizzy and weak and be pretty much unable to function at a high level, if at all. In other words, you hit the wall.
Almost all marathoners will load up on complex carbohydrates in the days leading up to the big race. They are well aware that glycogen stores have to be topped up because this is their main source of fuel.
There is a finite amount of glycogen our bodies can store, so once they are topped up, eating more carbohydrates does not produce more. The body won’t try to produce more until glycogen stores are being burned as fuel.
If a marathoner goes out way too fast at the start of the race, he will be burning up his glycogen stores at a fast rate. The average marathoner will burn up glycogen stores by about the 18 to 20-mile mark of the 26.2-mile marathon. At this point, they are in serious trouble. It’s too late to start to eat carbohydrates because the body does not have time to convert it to fuel.
They have, in fact, hit the wall. They have nothing left in the tank and the remainder of the race becomes a death march.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH SENIORS?
It has everything to do with seniors.
You simply have to earn your carbohydrates or they will be stored as fat. So in that regard, all the diet books that vilify carbohydrates are partially correct. Unless you have done something to burn your fuel, eating more glycogen creating food will mean that it will have to be stored somewhere else.
When you eat more carbohydrates and your glycogen stores are maxed out, there is nowhere for it to go to your body stores it as fat. You haven’t really earned the right to keep eating carbohydrates and you will gain weight. If seniors gain too much weight, they leave themselves open to a host of medical problems including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and much more.
If you do as the Keto, Atkins, and dozens of other diets state and quit eating carbohydrates altogether, of course, you will lose weight if all you eat is fat and protein. I tried most of these diets so I could write about them from my own experience. In every case, when I quit eating carbohydrates I found myself lacking in energy and unable to compete at a high level. My fuel reserves were simply too low.
Sure, these diets work to lose weight, but none of them are really very pleasant or sustainable for long periods of time.
THE BEST DIET FOR SENIORS
If I had my way, all seniors would have regular sessions of fitness built into their weekly routine. By doing this, they enable themselves to be much more flexible when it comes to diet.
From all I have learned over the years about diet, I feel the best diet for seniors would include about 25% complex carbohydrates, 5% simple carbohydrates(as the odd treat) 35% protein, and 30% fat. In other words, a balance of all the foods you eat.
Your current weight and level of fitness will require you to change this formula to suit yourself.
If you are seriously overweight you would benefit most by doing what many of the diet books say. You would cut down your carbohydrates and increase your fats and protein. Should you stick with this diet without cheating, you will lose weight quickly. These diets are restrictive and unpleasant for the most part, but if you do them properly you will not have to do them forever.
Once you get a grip on your weight, you can begin to re-introduce complex carbohydrates into your diet. You might start out with just 15% complex carbohydrates, 45% protein, and 40% fat. If you are serious about keeping your weight down for good and introduce regular fitness into the mix, you can slowly increase the number of carbohydrates you consume because you are burning your fuel and it needs to be replaced.
Now, you can see what I mean about earning your carbs.
The more you workout, the more you can eat. Should you decide to take off for a 10-mile walk on a sunny summer day, you have earned the right to eat more complex carbohydrates for dinner later that evening. Unless you did nothing all day, you will begin gaining weight if you eat more because you have done nothing to reduce your glycogen stores and your body will store it as fat once again.
I have met many seniors who have embraced running. Some have even become hooked on marathons. They are so physically active that they can ramp up their servings of oatmeal, whole wheat bread, pasta, potatoes, and brown rice and not gain a pound.
Their calorie distribution could look something like this. 55% complex carbohydrates, 5% simple carbohydrates(for the occasional treat) 20% protein and 20% fat. Quite a difference isn’t there?
It does wonders if a senior stays fit and is physically active on a regular basis. The best diet for seniors and why it matters is a diet that is formulated to suit their lifestyle.
If cooking gourmet meals aren’t your thing, consider having them delivered on a regular basis from Home Bistro.
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