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10 over-50s nutrition myths debunked

Daniel Couglin / 18 July 2016 ( 11 July 2017 )

Convinced you can’t lose weight as you get older? Sure your daily glass of vino keeps your ticker healthy? Learn the most common over-50s nutrition myths.

red wine
The heart-protective properties of red wine have been massively over-stated.

It's all too easy to fall for common misconceptions about nutrition and ageing. These widely held beliefs may be 100% wrong, but many people still swear by them.

To help you separate fact from fiction, we reveal the truth behind 10 of the most pervasive over-50s' nutrition myths.

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Metabolism slows down dramatically when you hit 50

Research from the New York Obesity Center shows that post-50, men experience a mere 5% reduction in metabolic rate per decade and for women, it's just 3%.

Study after study backs this up. Yes, it's advisable to eat say, 70 – 100 fewer calories a day than you did during your 20s – that's the equivalent of just one slice of bread or a chocolate digestive – but the change is nowhere near as drastic as people think.

A less active lifestyle, overeating, reduced muscle tone and a change in the way fat is distributed in the body are far more likely to cause a bulging waistline post-50 than a slightly slower metabolism.

Metabolism: facts and fiction

The majority of people lose their appetite as they age

Many of us expect to go off our food and eat less as we get older, but age-related loss of appetite or anorexia of ageing to give it its proper medical name isn't as prevalent as people think.

A review of 27 studies carried out by a team of Spanish researchers in 2013 reported that only 15% to 30% of older people experience chronic loss of appetite. And for most of those who do, the process tends to be gradual and subtle.

In fact, a sudden or intense loss of appetite at any age could indicate an underlying health problem and should be investigated by a GP.

Why loss of appetite could be a sign of lung cancer

The over-50s need fewer nutrients to function

Older people require fewer calories to function, so that must mean the older you are, the fewer nutrients you need, right?

On the contrary, older people tend to require more of two of the most important micronutrients for health, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

The body is less efficient at absorbing vitamin B12 as we age, and the skin is less effective at producing vitamin D from sunlight.

As any doctor will tell you, upping rather than reducing your intake of these two essential vitamins is the way forward.

Why your heart needs vitamin D

Older people can get all the nutrients they need from their diet

NHS advice states that most people get all the nutrients they need by eating a varied, balanced diet. Many of us think it's healthier to eat our vitamins rather than take them in supplement form, so we avoid popping daily vitamins and minerals.

However, even the healthiest diets may require supplementation if you're 50-plus. To maintain optimum health, British Dietetic Association spokesperson Priya Tew recommends older people take a 10 micrograms supplement of vitamin D and 2 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day. See the NHS page on vitamin D for more information.

Should you take this supplement?

People over 50 who carry a bit of extra weight are bound to be well-nourished

Getting all the right nutrients is that bit tougher as you age and certain nutritional deficiencies are more common in older people.

NHS advice states that a poor diet post-50 can cause malnutrition. A person can actually be overweight and malnourished if they're eating a lot of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods – low body mass index (BMI) and lack of body fat aren't the only indicators of malnutrition.

If you're unsure about whether you're getting the correct nutrients, it's a good idea to make an appointment with your GP to discuss your dietary needs.

Weight gain is inevitable during menopause

It really doesn't have to be. Hormonal changes may alter the distribution of body fat – women during menopause tend to put on weight around the abdomen rather than the hips and thighs – and muscle mass may decrease.

But menopausal weight gain isn't a foregone conclusion. Cutting calories – even ditching just 100 or so a day should help – as well as exercise is key. According to the British Dietetic Association, 30 minutes of fast walking a day could lead to around 7kg (15lb) weight loss a year.

Are you making these post-menopause diet mistakes?

Older people should only drink water when they're feeling thirsty

Studies show that older people can experience decreased thirst sensation, especially after strenuous activity. We're told to drink water or non-alcoholic and caffeine-free drinks when we're thirsty to stave off dehydration, but this tactic may not work for many older people.

Aim to drink around six to eight glasses of fluid a day if you can. Checking the colour of your urine is the best way to keep tabs on your hydration levels. The lighter the hue, the more hydrated you are – dark yellow urine is a tell-tale sign of dehydration.

Spot the signs of dehydration and find out how to make sure you stay hydrated

Cooking in aluminium utensils and using aluminium foil can lead to Alzheimer’s disease

Another myth that refuses to die. The advice from Alzheimer's Research UK is crystal-clear: “Despite occasional publicity, there is no convincing evidence that cooking with aluminium saucepans or foil increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia.”

A build-up of aluminium in the brain was thought to be a potential risk factor during the 60s and 70s, but no study has ever confirmed a link between normal exposure to the metal and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's or dementia.

Can you cut your Alzheimer’s risk by half?

Older people should drink a glass or two of red wine a day to protect the heart

Don't believe the hype. The heart-protective properties of red wine have been massively over-stated and new government guidelines, which are based on the latest medical research, have pretty much dismissed the health benefits of a drinking a glass or two of vino every day.

Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies has warned that just one drink a day can put you at a heightened risk of cancer and actually raise your chances of having a stroke or heart attack. If you enjoy a tipple, try to avoid drinking alcohol every single day if you can.

Are you drinking more than you think?

Diet has nothing to do with skin ageing

Although exposure to the sun is the main premature ageing culprit, diet is also a big factor. A diet high in refined sugars and fried meats for instance can exacerbate glycation, a process that weakens collagen fibres, causing wrinkles and sagging skin.

On the other hand, a balanced Mediterranean diet can help minimise the signs of ageing. “Its high proportion of omega-3 rich fish and naturally occurring antioxidants in all the different coloured vegetables it emphasizes is probably the best – and most realistic – healthy diet for skin,” says leading dermatologist Dr Tamara Griffiths.

10 wrinkle-busting foods

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.