Trust your gut! Really. There’s a difference between good gut feelings and painful ones, such as heart burn, indigestion and constipation. During this time of life, your body’s need for certain nutrients goes up…but, maybe you have noticed, your tolerance for certain foods goes down.
I believe the keys to healthy eating are two words: smaller and slower. But before we can truly understand why we need to eat differently, it helps to know a little bit more about why your gut behaves differently as we age.
1. The stomach shrinks. As we age, there is a decrease in what is called “gastrointestinal reserve.” In other words, our stomach muscle is less stretchable (can’t hold as much food) and the intestines lose strength (food moves more slowly). No more bingeing and gorging like a teenager, your gut just can’t take it!
2. Acid refluxes. The muscular valve that keeps the food in your stomach and prevents it from being regurgitated back into the esophagus becomes weaker. When we eat too much too fast, we get that “burny” sensation and irritate that sensitive lining of the esophagus.
3. Digestion slows. As we grow older, our intestinal function, saliva production, and stomach emptying all slow down.
4. Nutrient absorption slows. The normal folds of the intestine get flatter as we age and decreases the absorption surface, which may cause the intestines to be less able to absorb nutrients.
5. "Garbage disposal" weakens. Once your large intestine disposes of waste, any remaining toxins from the digestive process head to the backup disposal, your liver. Your liver has a lot of reserve, but as you age its reserve decreases. Too much garbage (junky or excess food) clogs your disposal system.
6. Metabolism slows. As we age, we become calorie storers instead of calorie burners. Less fuel burned means less food needed.
What should we do? Graze. The key to digestive bliss is small, frequent mini-meals, which will keep your body satisfied—neither hungry, nor uncomfortably full.
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