The importance of maintaining a healthy weight in seniors
It is a commonly known fact that good nutrition lies at the heart of weight control, but what exactly are the mechanics of a nutrition-based approach? What do we need to know to apply the concepts of a healthy diet and lifestyle to our everyday lives? Anyone who has struggled with weight issues, overeating, or other eating disorders is aware of the difficulties we face in our weight control journey. To make things more complicated, weight control discussions can be treacherous to navigate and unhealthy fad diets are easily perpetuated in the media, the Internet, and in our daily interactions with others.
People of different age groups have varying nutritional and caloric needs. As is commonly known, our bodies go through a multitude of changes as we grow older, and older adults require fewer calories to maintain their weight as they often are less active and carry less muscle. However, older adults need just as much of certain nutrients as people in other age groups, if not more. Healthy eating, then, becomes increasingly important.
There are many ways to raise awareness and mitigate this situation. Kenan Foundation Asia organized a webinar with Associate Professor Dr. Preeya Leelahakul, a nutritionist from the Nutrition Clinic, Faculty of Medicine at Mahidol University, and the Ramathibodi Hospital as the speaker. The talk, titled, Nutrition for Weight Control, discussed the usefulness of an obesity self-assessment tool, Body Mass Index or, and shared simple, evidence-based weight control strategies. The talk addressed a lack of knowledge on nutrition that leads to ineffective diets, malnutrition, and unhealthy eating habits. This may result in excessive weight gain and put people, especially older adults, at risk of chronic and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, and kidney diseases.
Strategies for weight control
- A balanced and mindful approach to eating
One of the biggest misconceptions about weight control is that we need to follow restrictive diets when our focus should be on healthy eating. Healthy eating is all about balance. Yes, certain high-calorie foods should be limited, but eating them should also be guilt-free. Enjoy your favorite food, even if it is high in calories, fat, or added sugar, as part of a nutritionally dense diet. This, combined with regular physical activity, works as a consistent predictor of future weight loss. Instead of going on a restrictive diet, aim to become a healthier, happier, and fitter person—to fuel and nourish your body rather than to deprive it.
The coupling of mindfulness and balanced eating habits is crucial to our health. Eating mindfully means chewing slowly and taking the time to savor the taste of your food; this allows your brain to register the fact that you have had enough to eat. In this way, paying attention to each bite and slowing down your food intake help prevent overeating and increase the production of hormones related to weight loss. As mentioned above, you can choose to eat a smaller quantity of your favorite food if it is higher in calories. If your favorite food is chocolate, have a smaller portion, perhaps half a bar, and keep the rest for later. These practices are all components of mindful eating.
Keeping in mind that carbohydrates are easy to digest and to convert into energy and that there are healthy complex carbohydrates, we can still benefit from reducing our intake of simple carbohydrates and refined sugar. Research suggests that eating fewer carbohydrates can reduce appetite and gives our bodies the opportunity to convert stored fat into energy. Another benefit of cutting carbohydrates is lower insulin levels, which encourages our kidneys to shed excess sodium and water. Additionally, low-carb vegetables contain all the fiber, vitamins, and minerals you need to be healthy; these include broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, lettuce, and cucumber.
Eating plenty of protein has been proven to boost calorie expenditure and metabolism by 80-100 calories per day while shaving 441 calories off your daily intake. High protein consumption can also reduce cravings and obsessive thoughts about food by 60%, reduce the desire to snack at night by half and helps you feel full. Protein is, therefore, a crucial nutrient to consider when controlling weight, not to mention that it is important for muscle recovery after exercise and compensates for muscle loss in older individuals. Healthy protein sources include meat, fish, whole eggs with yolk, and plant-based proteins such as beans, legumes, and soy. If you struggle to get enough protein, taking supplements such as whey or pea protein can help with weight control, increasing muscle mass, and muscle recovery.
Healthy fats are essential for brain and heart health, and for effective weight control. Your body needs a certain amount of fat in your diet to maintain optimal health. Limit foods with trans fats, as they increase the risk of heart disease. Sources of fats include coconut oil and butter, and even better sources of healthy fats include olive oil, nuts or seeds like almonds or pumpkin seeds, certain types of fish, like salmon and tuna. Incorporate these into your meals twice a week, and try some avocado in your morning smoothie and top a salad or lean meats with sliced avocado.
- Sufficient water intake
Drinking water, especially before meals, is generally recommended in evidence-based weight control plans. Drink at least eight large cups or about two liters of water throughout the day. Water transports nutrients throughout the body, eliminates wastes in the body, and can boost metabolism by 24-30% over a period of one to one-and-a-half hours, helping you burn off a few more calories. Drinking half a liter of water 30 minutes before meals helps reduce calorie intake, and people who do this lose 44% more weight than those who do not drink enough water.
What Kenan has to offer
In 2017, the Bank of Thailand stated that Thailand was the fastest and the earliest of developing countries to transition from an aging to an aged society. We would be remiss if not more is done to help those who have contributed much to our society. At Kenan, we believe in building a community of like-minded individuals who share knowledge and support each other, and by doing so, we create a sense of accountability and confidence for everyone involved to lead healthy, happy, and fulfilling lives, regardless of our demographic.
Kenan’s NextGen Aging program endeavors to provide accurate information in an easy-to-understand manner and to establish a preventive and holistic health care approach for pre-seniors and seniors in our society. Therefore, our NextGen Aging empowers seniors through a range of services, not only physical and mental health but also digital literacy, financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and employment.
To learn about Kenan’s work to support Thailand’s aging population, please visit www.kenan-asia.org/nextgen-aging/