If you're over 50, you might be wondering if some of the latest diet trends are for you. After all, the tricks that worked for you 10, 20, or 30 years ago may not be as effective once you're over 50. Plus, you have different health goals now, including things like heart, brain, and bone health.

So, what does the science say about low-carb dieting over 50?

It turns out that low-carb dieting can produce beneficial results that promote health and longevity no matter your age, but especially in older populations.

Metabolic markers like enhanced insulin sensitivity, improved blood lipids, and abdominal fat loss have all been reported in older people following a low-carb diet. What's more, low-carb dieting helps to preserve muscle mass in older people, which is crucial for bone health and overall wellbeing.[1]

So, how does a low-carb diet work?

This article will explore how to start a low-carb diet after the age of 50, the benefits of low-carb dieting on aging, and what you need to know before starting your new low-carb lifestyle. 

Starting a Low-Carb Diet After 50

It's never too late to begin a low-carb diet; all you need to know are some basic foundations to get yourself started. 

Of course, the most important thing to understand is what a low-carb diet looks like from a macronutrient perspective. You may not be able to eat all the same foods you're used to, and you'll likely be incorporating new foods that you wouldn't normally think of. The most important part of starting any new diet is to get the basics down before you begin.

Here is a breakdown of how you'll look at macronutrients on a low-carb diet:

Restrict Carb Intake 

You may have heard that the most important part of a low-carb diet is eating more fat. But that's not necessarily true. The most critical part of a low-carb diet is restricting carbohydrate intake. There are many different versions of "low-carb" out there, but the general rule is to restrict carbohydrates to less than 130 grams per day, or around 26% of your calories. 

On a very low carb diet (also known as a keto diet) you would restrict your carbs to 20-50 grams per day, or around 10% of your calories.[2]

Calculating your carb intake is a little bit more tricky than protein or fat because you have to account for dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is technically a carbohydrate, but your digestive tract doesn't absorb it, so it doesn't actually contribute to your overall carb intake. 

For example, on a nutrition label, you may see that a food contains 20 grams of total carbohydrate and 10 grams of fiber. You want to calculate the net carb amount, and you do that by subtracting the fiber content from the total carbs:

Total Carbs (20) - Fiber (10) = 10 net carbs

Increase Protein Consumption

Consuming enough protein is crucial for muscle maintenance and bone health as you age. Many people, especially women, find that their bones become more brittle with age, and they're more likely to experience fractures and breaks.[3]

One of the  benefits of low-carb dieting is that, as you cut carbs, you're naturally more inclined to increase your protein consumption. 

The Daily Recommended Intake (DRI) for protein in adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight. For a 150-pound person, this would equate to consuming around 55 grams of protein per day.[4]

With that being said, some research suggests that you should consume closer 1.0 to 1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight if you're over 65 — especially if you're active. That would be around 68 to 81 grams of protein for the same 150-pound adult.[5]

Increase Consumption of Fat

It's a common misconception that you have to drastically increase your fat intake when you follow a low-carb diet. While you'll likely be consuming more fat than you would on a high-carb diet, it's not necessary to go overboard with fat.

Generally speaking, once you cut carbs and increase your protein intake, the remainder of your diet will end up being fat from healthy, natural sources like real butter, ghee, coconut oil, and olive oil.

How much fat exactly? It really depends on your body and your needs, but most people end up consuming around 30% of their calories from fat on a standard low-carb diet, while a very low-carb diet (keto diet) could be as much as 45-65%. 

Low-Carb Diet Benefits on Aging

Low-carb dieting offers some unique benefits for people over age 50 due to its impact on skeletal and muscle health and the metabolic changes that can occur when cutting carbs.

Depending on your specific goals and current state of health, you may experience a range of benefits related to cognition, weight, metabolism, inflammation, and more.

Some of the most well-researched benefits of low-carb dieting include:

Prevention Of Brain-Related Issues Caused by Aging

Current estimates show that about 5.8 million people in the United States have Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. Although we don't fully understand how to prevent these conditions, a significant amount of research points to diet and metabolic health as a key to slowing down or inhibiting the progression of these diseases altogether.[6]

Studies show that following a low-carb diet may enhance cellular and metabolic health to support the prevention of dementia. Specifically, low-carb dieting enhances mitochondrial function, boosts brain energy metabolism, and supports a healthy inflammatory response, which influences the pathology of neurological diseases.[7]

Improved Lean Body Mass

When you cut carbs, it helps you shed excess fat and preserve lean muscle tissue. As mentioned earlier, muscle preservation is crucial as you get older due to the impact that years can have on both bone and muscle health.[1]

Conditions such as sarcopenia and osteoporosis are common occurrences as we age, and one of the best ways to get ahead of bone and muscle loss is to maintain healthy muscles while keeping your overall bodyweight in balance.[3]

Improved Cholesterol Levels

Many people assume that increasing your fat intake will result in higher levels of serum cholesterol. Luckily, research shows the opposite to be true.

In fact, studies show that cutting carbs, not healthy fat, lowers LDL cholesterol and increases HDL cholesterol (the good kind). Low-carb dieting also tends to lower triglycerides, providing an all-around improved lipid profile.[8

Lower Inflammation Levels

Cutting sugar out of your diet alone may be enough to lower inflammation markers. However, research shows that low-carb dieting may have a systemic effect on inflammation, protecting your body against conditions like heart disease and diabetes.[9]

There are several theories on how low-carb dieting impacts inflammation, but an obvious one is that you avoid high blood sugar when you eat fewer carbs. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can instigate inflammation in your body and potentially damage blood vessels and organs.[10]

Lowers Risk of Heart Diseases

Again, you may associate more protein and fat and fewer carbs with higher rates of heart disease, but researchers are finding the opposite to be true. In fact, several markers for heart disease are lowered when following a low-carb diet, including:[11]

  • Inflammation
  • LDL cholesterol
  • Triglycerides 
  • Fasting blood glucose
  • Blood pressure

Furthermore, low-carb dieting may help fight abdominal fat, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.[12]

Understanding the Risks of a Low-Carb Diet for Adults

Every new diet comes with its potential downsides. Although low-carb dieting works for many people, you should always consult with your health care professional before beginning any new diet plan. 

Your unique body will require its own unique set of nutrients. This is why it's vital that you make your diet specific to you and not just follow along with what someone else might be doing. 

Therefore, before you start your low-carb diet, keep these tips in mind:

Talk With Your Doctor

It's always a good idea to run any new health plans by your primary care physician. This is twice as important if you're taking any medications. While most people will find that low-carb dieting fits in perfectly with what they're already doing, you can never be too careful when it comes to your health.

Get a Good Balance of Nutrients

One common pitfall of low-carb dieting (or any type of diet) is getting into a food rut. If you're not a big fan of cooking or don't want to spend the time preparing meals, you may find that you just keep eating the same foods over and over. 

Eating a variety of foods is vital to overall health as each food you consume is made up of a unique array of nutrients. On a low-carb diet, you may also find that you miss out on high-fiber foods like grains and beans. 

Getting enough fiber is crucial for gut health, especially as you get older, so be sure to include a range of high fiber vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.[13]

Get Plenty of Water

As you begin to consume fewer carbohydrates, your body will adapt to this shift in incoming energy by producing more ketones. Ketones are sources of fuel that are made from the breakdown of fats. 

After a few weeks on your low-carb diet, your body will be accustomed to this new fuel source, and everything will be running smoothly. However, in the interim, you may start to notice some side effects as your body gets used to ketones. 

One very common side effect is a loss of electrolytes and water.[14]

For this reason, it's crucial that you stay hydrated while following a low-carb diet, especially in the beginning stages. You may even want to include an electrolyte supplement to ensure that your electrolytes stay in balance. 

The Takeaway

Following a low-carb diet can provide a range of benefits for people that are over 50. Some of the most notable changes that you may see include weight loss, preserved muscle mass, and healthy lipid markers. 

You don't have to go it alone if you've been considering a low-carb diet. By joining the Biocoach community, you'll get access to health coaches, recipes, and meal plans that will guide you on your low-carb journey.  

You'll also receive a glucose monitor that will provide real-time information about what's happening with your blood sugar. 

Of course, before beginning any new diet, check in with your health care provider to make sure it's the right fit for you.

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