Cannabis, or marijuana, is the world’s most highly used illicit drug. But hemp – although it derives from the same species – will not cause giggle fits, big toenail fascination or insatiable pizza cravings.
Hempseed contains only negligible amounts of marijuana’s primary psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – and its high concentration of cannabidiol (CBD) counteracts THC’s brain-altering effects.
A diverse, fast-growing plant, hemp is used industrially to make numerous products including paper, canvas, linen, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint and insulation.
And hempseed – legalised in Australia November last year – has been eaten for thousands of years raw, cooked and roasted. Technically a nut, it is packed with nutrients that include healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats, vitamin E, minerals, fibre, and protein.
Rivalling whey powder’s 13% protein content, hemp contains 25% protein – more than chia seed and quinoa. Hempseed contains 20 amino acids. That includes the 9 essential peptides that humans need from dietary sources, making it a complete source of plant protein.
The protein is also easily digested, making it highly bioavailable. Its protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) is “equal to or greater than certain grains, nuts, and some pulses,” according to researchers from the University of Manitoba.
Research suggests hempseed protein has several health benefits including reduced fatigue and improved immune function. Hempseed protein may also lower blood pressure and cholesterol, indicative of heart health benefits. Its antioxidant properties reduce free radicals responsible for accelerated aging.
In aging, good quality protein itself is important for retaining healthy muscle mass and bone density to reduce risk of sarcopenia and osteoporosis. It can lower risk of falls and improve recovery and wound healing. Protein may even help ward off diabetes and dementia.
Since its legalisation, industry has been creatively devising new products to deliver hemp seeds’ nutritional benefits to consumers – including hemp beer, hemp chocolate and hemp oil. It is also available as a protein powder and flour for baking.
Hempseeds have a nutty flavour. Recipes have sprung up to include them in a smorgasbord of foods ranging from granola, hummus, burgers, pesto, protein balls and chutney to bread, soup and smoothies.
And hemp is not just good for us; it is ecologically sustainable. As well as being fast growing, it does not need much water, so is an ideal crop for Australian conditions. Harry Youngman, Victorian farmer, told the ABC that its “water use efficiency is incredible.”
With its “aggressive rooting structure,” it helps to break up the soil, making it an ideal rotational crop between seasons. Even better, it is weed-resistant and needs little, if any chemicals.
People may be living longer, but quality of life tends to wane with aging. The burden of disease increases significantly after age 65. As a result, older adults commonly take multiple medications, further exacerbating their risk of frailty and premature death.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Chronic diseases have solid foundations in lifestyle behaviours, including diet. Addressing some common myths around diet and nutrition in older adults can shine some light on healthy aging.
People lose muscle mass with aging, resulting in lower energy needs. But it’s important to stay active and maintain strong muscles, which also support good bone density. Even if slower metabolism reduces calorie requirements, more than ever, older adults need a full range of nutrients and fibre from a variety of whole foods to maintain good health.
Taste and smell can decline with age, impacting appetite. But skipping meals can cause a downward spiral. It can lower blood glucose levels and increase risk of malnutrition. If appetite is low, eat sweet fruit, add salt and herbs to meals for flavour, and have small portions and regular snacks with high nutrition density – ensuring protein needs are met.
Nutritional supplements can never replace the full range of vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy fats, polyphenols and fibre provided by a whole food diet. Sometimes they are necessary to supplement a healthy diet though. Vitamins most at risk in aging are B12 and Vitamin D. Protein shakes can provide a concentrated protein source if appetite is low.
Although a little extra padding is okay in older years, overweight and obesity increase risk of chronic disease at any age. It is recommended that older people who are overweight shed 5-10% of their body weight over 6 months for improved health. The best approach is to eat whole foods and avoid highly processed foods with refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats.
While overweight and underweight bring a host of health problems, poor health can still afflict people in the normal weight range. An unhealthy diet can cause chronic inflammation – associated with a range of physical and mental health problems. A whole food diet low in processed foods is important at any age or weight.
Thirst is not generally a reliable indicator of fluid needs, particularly in older years when thirst sensation declines. For this and several other reasons, dehydration is an oft-overlooked problem in older adults. It can lead to poor health, hospitalisation and death. Even mild dehydration can cause weakness, dizziness, low blood pressure and increased falls risk. Ensure plenty of fluids are freely available, particularly water and herbal tea.
Although body parts endure gradual wear and tear with age, being sick is not normal. Good health can be maintained with good nutrition, regular hydration, healthy weight, physical activity, mental stimulation, social engagement and careful monitoring of any unnecessary medications.
Dementia risk is associated with several lifestyle factors including low physical activity and poor diet. Research suggests a Mediterranean-style diet – high in plant foods and healthy fats with moderate amounts of fish and dairy and low intakes of red meat and processed food – is protective. B vitamins, antioxidants (abundant in plant foods) and omega-3s may also reduce dementia risk.
Popeye devoured spinach to make his muscles strong. But his creators, like everyone else, were duped by a chemist’s miscalculation of this vegetable’s iron content. Could coffee have helped?
Many athletes drink coffee not just for a pick-me-up, but to help them perform. Sports scientists have explored caffeine’s exercise enhancing properties for more than a century.
More recently, the focus has shifted from aerobic exercises like cycling and running to caffeine’s effect on muscle strength, power and endurance.
Studies have found varying effects of caffeine on muscle performance. One meta-analysis – larger analysis that pools all eligible studies together – found that caffeine increased the lower body’s muscle contraction ability by 7%. However, another meta-analysis found no effect. Part of the reason could be the type of tests that were used.
A new meta-analysis of ten studies has now reported that caffeine improves muscle strength and power using one-repetition maximum and vertical jump tests, respectively. Curiously, further analyses found that caffeine improved upper but not lower body strength.
Scientists are not clear exactly how coffee might enhance performance, but evidence suggests its effects could be multifactorial. It seems to revolve around caffeine’s stimulation of the nervous system. This likely explains why it helps people feel more alert. Caffeine may improve performance by enhancing muscle contraction and subduing perceived pain and exertion.
Maintaining muscle mass and strength is particularly important for healthy aging. Strength training programs tailored to individual needs, supplemented by protein and good nutrition, will alleviate risk of sarcopenia, falls, hospitalisation and associated decline.
It’s important to note that statistical analyses of research outcomes work on averages. Caffeine research shows notable variation in people’s response to it. This variation is apparent in research on its heart and cognitive benefits.
A study published last month reported that a large pooled analysis of several population-based studies showed caffeine intake was associated with decreased atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm that can impact heart function). Up to 6 cups of coffee a day was not linked with increased severity of abnormal heart rate overall. But around a quarter of patients reported that coffee did trigger atrial fibrillation.
People’s muscle function also shows varied response to caffeine. One study, for instance, reported that some participants’ back-squat performance decreased by 7% with caffeine intake while others increased by up to 10%. Authors concluded that, “Due to inter-individual variability in responses to caffeine consumption, it must be used in an individualized manner.”
The authors noted that people are likely to be caffeine ‘responders’ or ‘non-responders.’ In this they refer to genetic differences. People who are slow caffeine metabolisers lack a gene that is seen in fast caffeine metabolisers – you know, those lucky people who can have a coffee at midnight and still sleep soundly.
It turns out that positive links between coffee and heart health are seen in fast, but not slow, coffee metabolisers.
So if you know you can happily tolerate caffeine, indulging in a cuppa before exercise might help boost endurance and build muscle – perhaps not quite like Popeye but stronger and healthier nonetheless.
Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on May 7, 2018 in Obesity
Sparse but increasing evidence points to a delicate balance between weight loss and weight gain in aging. While malnutrition afflicts a considerable segment of our aging population, the obesity epidemic has also hit Australia’s growing older cohort.
And the health effects are just as damaging. Overweight and obesity amplify risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and even dementia. They increase declining health in aging and can trigger physical and cognitive disability, boosting hospital admissions, health care costs and mortality.
“Sarcopenic obesity” is a new term to describe age-related loss of muscle mass combined with increased body fat. Evidence suggests it may even have worse consequences for disability than sarcopenia without obesity.
Health professionals are wary of prescribing weight loss in older adults for fear of impacting muscles, bones and nutrition status. But evidence suggests that shedding excess weight at an older age, as in younger years, can improve physical function and reduce chronic diseases.
Excess calories and scant physical activity are primary risk factors for obesity at any age. These have also contributed to swelling obesity in advanced years.
“In an affluent country such as Australia,” the National Health and Medical Research Council says, “food is plentiful, easily accessible, often energy dense and heavily promoted, and daily tasks and recreation depend less and less on physical activity.”
Increased love of eating out, computer use, television viewing, labour saving technologies, restricted time, fear of crime, and greater use of cars are likely contributors.
Compounding these factors, age-related declines in hormone production can increase fat accumulation. Aging also reduces muscle mass. It compresses spines and makes people shorter. All this can unfavourably tilt the fat:muscle ratio, so simply stepping on the scales may not reveal increased fat.
Less than half of health professionals advise weight loss in overweight or obese older adults. Yet such advice is a good predictor of efforts to shed weight. In support, governing health bodies now advocate treating obesity in older adults.
In so doing, priority must be given to preservation of muscle mass, bone density and nutrient levels. Individualised care is critical to address any related conditions. The suggested target is a gradual 5% to 10% weight reduction over 6 months, followed by weight maintenance.
A nutritious, well balanced diet is always optimal for healthy weight and healthy body. Plenty of plant foods provide nutrients that support good health and can be eaten in bulk without consulting the calorie counter. Round this out with oily fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel, dairy products, whole grains and healthy fats. Bin highly processed foods and refined carbohydrates.
The golden years demand special attention to consuming adequate protein (1.0-1.2 grams per kg per day) to help maintain muscle mass and bone health. Vitamin D and vitamin B12, notoriously compromised with age, are recommended as supplements. Fibre—from plant foods—and plenty of fluids will help keep things purring along.
Regular exercise is the crowning jewel—it burns energy to help shed kilos, maintains healthy muscle mass and bone density, supports a healthy immunity, reduces chronic physical illness, and helps keep the brain sharp.
Minimum physical activity recommendations are individually, professionally tailored aerobic exercise (increasing heart rate and breathing) 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, and strengthening exercises at least three days a week.