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3 Ways to Fight Aging with Nutrition

by: Mari-Etta Parrish RD, CSSD, LDN

Wrinkles, fatigue, slowing of your metabolism. These are some of the more obvious changes your body experiences as it ages. There are even more changes occurring inside your body that you cannot see, nor sense. Most of the changes we cannot avoid. This is tough news considering life expectancy has increased almost a decade for both men and women over the past 30 years. We may be likely to live longer, but our quality of life may not be the best if we don’t take action now. While aging may be inevitable, you do have the ability to minimize the effects of age related changes with smart nutrition.  The power to stay stronger, have more energy, and avoid many health issues is in the food you eat.



No one wants to look in the mirror and see anything jiggling, hanging, or bulging. The slowing of your metabolism begins in your mid-twenties when your muscle mass begins to decline.

You can work out regularly to combat some of this muscle loss, but minding your diet is just as important. As you age your protein needs increase about 25% in order to preserve muscle.

For example: a 150lb. twenty-year-old needs about 55g. of protein per day compared to a 150 lb. fifty-year-old needs about 70g. of protein per day. In addition to protein, your need for Vitamin D and calcium increase. These minerals are not only essential for strong bones, which are also weakening with age (sigh!), Calcium and Vitamin D play important roles in muscle contraction and muscle strength. Inadequate Vitamin D levels (less than 30 nmol/l) are associated with decreased muscle strength. Since a majority of the US population is deficient in Vitamin D, this should be an easy way to gain strength for most of us.


Wish you had the energy of your kids or grandkids? Don’t envy them. Take it back. Fatigue is one of the number one complaints given to doctors after the age of thirty-five. Certainly the foundation for adequate energy is a good night’s sleep. Adults need seven to eight hours every day. Exercising consistently and avoiding disease also are important for maximizing energy. But your nutrition plays just as an important role in putting more pep in your step.

Dehydration is one of the top causes of fatigue. The percent of your body that is water also declines with age. This combined with decreased thirst sensation, decreased kidney size and blood flow to the kidneys means you have increased hydration needs.

When that afternoon slump occurs, reach for 16 oz. of water first, instead of coffee. You may just find it does the trick. Not to mention that the afternoon coffee contains caffeine, which can certainly boost energy, but may also interrupt your sleep that night. Extra fluids will also benefit your joints, making it feel easier to move. Aim for 72 oz. of fluid per day.

As you age, your need for Vitamins B-6 and B-12 increase. These vitamins play a key role in energy production. Getting ample variety in your diet (my rule is to never eat the same food more than once in the day) is a great way to ensure you get all the nutrients you need. But in the case of B-12, even if you are eating more than you need in your diet, you could still be deficient because of decreased ability to absorb B-12 that comes with age. As you age, the amount of stomach acid you produce decreases. Ample stomach acid is required for B-12 absorption. This is further complicated if you have to take acids. To keep making energy as you did when you were in your twenties, it is a must to optimize your B-12 and B-6 levels.


It is always shocking to see a teenager or twenty-year-old with heart or cardiovascular health issues. Yet we are not surprised when we hear of a fifty something with the same issues. This is because there is a 40% increase in risk for cardiovascular and heart health related issues as you age. It is well publicized that most of these issues are lifestyle related and one way their risk can be mitigated is with proper health habits, including a well-balanced diet. The newest research emphasizes optimizing nitric oxide production and reducing inflammation in the body via diet as two key underlying mechanisms to nutrition’s supportive role in improving cardiovascular health.


  • Supporting healthy blood pressure levels
  • Increasing circulation throughout the body
  • Promoting cardiovascular and heart health
  • Aiding normal, healthy circulation and arterial function
  • Dilating arteries for healthy blood flow

After the age of forty, our bodies produce less than 50% of the nitric oxide compared to what we did in our teens and twenties. Nitric Oxide production is essential for the health and function of many areas in your body. This is why low levels have been found to be a major factor in developing a host of age-related health complications connected to circulation, cardiovascular health, blood pressure, and more.

The great news is that you can one pathway to help increase nitric oxide production in your body is by eating foods high in nitrate, like green leafy vegetables such as kale or spinach, and beets. Studies show that increased intake of nitrate from greens does effectively help increase nitric oxide production, which can help support healthy blood pressure levels.

Inflammation is also associated with a number of potential health issues. You can’t watch television these days without seeing a commercial for an anti-inflammatory solution or remedy. But there’s good news again! Research confirms that a diet rich in anti-oxidants and Omega-3, and low in processed foods and saturated fat can help limit total body inflammation. To achieve this, aim for four or more colors on your plate at every meal. Try to eat fish more often than other animals. Limit intake of any food with a food label on it.

While we can’t avoid aging, we can use nutrition to age well and improve our quality of life. Being aware of some of the changes age brings to your body and how nutrition can combat them will help you be more in control of the years ahead. With a proper diet you can stay stronger, have more energy and minimize health risks.

So how do you fit all this nutrition advice into your daily diet? Check out my post on how to fit foods for healthy aging into your daily diet.



Fleg, J. Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, July 26, 2005; vol 112. News release, American Heart Association.

Pfeifer M, Begerow B, Minne HW. Vitamin D and Muscle Function. Osteoporos Int. 2002. March. 13(3): 187-94.

Chen MK. The Epidemiology of Self-Perceived Fatigue Among Adults. Preventive Medicine. Jan. 1986. 15(1): 74-81.

Spring BJ, Lieberman HR, Swope G, Garfield GS. Effects of Carbohydrates on Mood and Behavior. Nutrition Reviews. May 1986. 44(3s): 51-60.

Law M. Wald N, Morris J, Lowering Blood Pressure to Prevent Myocardial Infarction and Stroke: a New Preventative Strategy. Health Technol. Assess. 2003; 7(31):1-94)


Mari-Etta Parrish RD, CSSD, LDN, RD and endurance athelete

MariEtta Parrish is a Registered Dietitian, Exercise Physiologist, and endurance athlete. She is also a board certified Sports Nutritionist. After working in clinical and community nutrition for a decade, she combined her passion for nutrition and exercise by founding her own sports nutrition consulting company, called Healthlete. MariEtta has co-authored medical text books and been a keynote speaker for multiple conferences. She is currently the team dietitian for the two professional sport teams in Nashville, as well as an adjunct professor at Lipscomb University. She provides an effective evidence-based approach to help individuals achieve their goals using: focus, food, and fitness- from the weekend warrior to the professional athlete. Most importantly, she “practices what she preaches.”

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