Hot Flash: I’m Over 50… Should I Change My Diet?

“People over 50 need to watch their calories a bit more closely and eat less food with added sugar or lots of solid fats.” Photo: Getty Images.

Over the summer, I had a horrible experience with an undiagnosed gall bladder infection that turned deadly. My eyes turned yellow, I had flu-like symptoms, broke out in a rash all over my body, and had weird bodily fluid episodes. I also had horrible back and chest aches. I went to the ED thinking I was having a heart attack or stroke.

Luckily, my primary care doctor correctly diagnosed the problem before my liver and pancreas shut down. I had surgery to have my gallbladder removed a week later, and not too soon.

Everyone says that it doesn’t make much of a difference if you don’t have a gallbladder. I beg to differ. I learned that the gallbladder is an extra filter for digestion before food is further processed via the liver. My surgeon said something about staying away from fatty foods when she spoke to me in recovery. She didn’t tell me why, though.

Soon after my recovery, I found out first hand when I had an order of sweet potato fries with my chicken Caesar salad. An hour later, I um, had to sprint to the nearest bathroom, where I promptly pooped (can I say this in writing?) everything out; um, rather quickly, if you know what I mean.

I recently went to a dietitian to help me with healthier food choices specific to my condition. I learned a lot. Here are some of the key points that everyone over 50 can use:

After 50, your body doesn’t digest food the way it did when you were younger. Your metabolism slows down, and you’re more likely to lose muscle mass and see changes in your weight. As a result, it takes a little more thought and effort to make sure you get enough nutrition and stay a healthy weight.

People over 50 need to watch their calories a bit more closely and eat less food with added sugar or a lot of solid fats, like the ones in butter or shortening. Or pizza. Or cheese. Or ice cream. Or sweet potato fries. Or any fries.

Gone are the days when I was under 100 pounds, my metabolism was in full gear and I could eat a whole medium pizza in one sitting without gaining a pound. Or getting sick.

Experts say men over 50 who are moderately active should get between 2,200 and 2,400 calories a day. For women, that number is about 1,800 calories.

So what should people over 50 eat more, or less of?

For example, you may need to eat more lean protein, get more exercise to make up for the loss of muscle mass, get some sun to replace your vitamin D, and eat more fruits and vegetables. This was what my dietitian told me I need to do.

If you’re worried about your weight, as I have been since my mid-30s, go with foods that pack a lot of nutrition without a lot of calories. These foods include fruits and vegetables, whole grains like oatmeal and brown rice, and beans and nuts. Lean meat, eggs, and seafood also fall into this category, along with low-fat milk and cheese.

I can do this! Goodbye pizza, French fries. It’s been nice knowing you.