I have spent almost 20 years treating patients with many different types of health problems from autoimmune diseases to mood disorders. In addition, many patients visit me for advice on how to lose weight. Often times, they have tried many diets and they are getting lack-luster results. In the earlier years, I didn’t realize the one common thread that ran through many of these cases. Finally, it became apparent to me, and is of such critical importance that I knew that if I could help them with this, it could change the entire course of their health. I came to the realization that most of them had the same complaint, not just the frustration with difficulty losing weight, but the common piece of information they provided is, “since I turned ‘X’ years old, what worked for me no longer works”. Some physiologic change associated with their age appeared to be the trigger. They would tell me that they hadn’t changed their diet or activity level but just started gaining weight. They said that there weren’t any books or good information out there that advised people how to eat as they got older. For others who had participated in the cycle of dieting and lost the same 20-30 pounds over and over, they complained that dieting no longer worked.
Now, you may be identifying with this weight issue and wondering if there is hope, and let me tell you, “Yes, there is hope!” I have discovered that our nutritional needs change quite a bit as we age. There are two core elements in my nutrition based prescription for better health as you age:
- There are specific foods you must eat to improve your digestion and overall wellness. These foods fall into the nutritional category of dietary bitters and are packed with bioactive compounds that improve cellular health and metabolism.
- The ‘bitter truth’ about eating as you get older is that if you have excess body fat stores, you need to eat less. It’s simple, but I have found very hard for people to hear, and even harder to execute. This piece of advice does not win me any popularity contests but it must be followed to attain results.
Digestive complaints become more common as we age. People tend to notice more issues with foods that seem to bother them in some way, in some causing heartburn or indigestion, while others feel certain meals tend to just sit heavy in their stomach. Bloating is common complaint I hear in my clinical practice, especially in women over 35. Another issue that comes along with aging is constipation, as the bowel becomes more sluggish.
In my clinical practice, I observe increased rates of nutrient deficiency in people over fifty, but I routinely see it in people in their late thirties and early forties, too. While deficiency states can often be the result from lack of those nutrients in the diet, in the case of the aging adult, reduced digestive capacity can play a larger role. It is well established that as we get older the body becomes less efficient at absorbing nutrients from food, which makes it even more important to eat food that is rich in healthy nutrients.
This brings us to the issue of food quality. In addition to the lower levels of vitamin and minerals and use of industrial chemicals in our general food supply, a major concern is lower phytonutrient content. This is a result of both factory farming and genetic modification of plants. When plants are grown with chemical pesticides and fertilizers, they don’t produce the same levels of bioactive compounds. Furthermore, these bioactive compounds tend to be bitter and can activate the bitter receptors.
Bitters are a category of biological compounds for which the tongue happens to have specialized taste receptors which register bitter taste in the brain. Conventionally-grown plants have been bred over the years, to contain less of these bioactive bitter-tasting compounds with the intent that it would make that vegetable or fruit taste less bitter and enhance the sweetness to produce food that would match the changing palate of people accustomed to consuming the Standard American Diet, which is rich in sugar and processed food and stripped of their nutrients. Organically grown foods, by definition, cannot be genetically modified so they will tend to have more bitter qualities.
Why is it so important to have high amounts of bitters in your diet? Well established, is the fact that dietary bitter compounds activating these receptors is important for overall digestive function, lowering overall food intake and limiting blood sugar spikes after eating. The great news about bitters is that they can help regulate appetite, improve the digestive process, help with weight loss and crush cravings for sweets. They also appear to play a role in such diverse activities as blood pressure regulation, thyroid function and even brain health. Learn more about bitters in this article.
If you are retaining excess stores of body fat, then getting rid of that excess fat is a top priority to improve your overall health and slow down the aging process. As we get older, one of the most important factors that plays a role here is the amount of fuel, or calories, you consume daily. The bitter truth that most people don’t like to hear is that you are going to need to eat less calories than you currently consume in order to reduce your body fat. There are so many diet and nutrition experts out there saying that calories no longer matter and that you don’t have to think about the portion sizes of the food you eat. That is simply not true. It sounds great to have no limit on the amount of food you can eat. That’s why many people find those food plans to be so attractive but they end up failing when it comes to results if you are overeating and exceeding the amount of calories required for your body’s needs. And, of course, as I just reviewed, you also need to eat nutritious foods, rich in bitter bioactive compounds. You can’t expect to feel better, improve your metabolism and slow down the aging process on a diet of processed food, devoid of nutrients, typical of the Standard American Diet.
You can learn more about all of this in my latest book, The Bitter Prescription.