ADDRESSING A WEIGHTY ISSUE
One of the main messages of Better Brain Food is that weight loss is not good for the elderly. Being overweight in early to middle adulthood carries the risk of chronic inflammation and insulin resistance that can damage the brain, but the situation is different for older people.
Ngaire Hobbins urges younger people to do anything they can to shed excess weight. She says avoiding being sedentary and boosting physical activity is a powerful “brain protector” for later life. She also recommends eating enough protein to maintain muscle while losing fat. But for anyone in their 70s and older, she warns that losing weight causes loss of muscle mass and likely does more harm than good.
She says a slightly heavier weight is better for older people and this may be related to hormones produced by body fat. Changes in body shape – the so-called middle-age spread – can be good for us.
Hobbins’ view is that intermittent fasting, such as the popular diet that urges five days a week of normal eating combined with two non-consecutive days on very low energy intake, requires careful consideration.
For younger people, restricting food intake may reduce the damage caused by eating too much and improve fuel supply to the brain. But for older people, the risk of losing muscle needs to be considered.
She also points out energy restriction is common throughout history. The difference is that going hungry a little longer used to be just something that happened, not a lifestyle choice.
She also urges older people who lose weight unintentionally to discuss it with a doctor.
After all, she says a little extra weight later in life is a sign someone is eating more food and the extra nutrients have a chance to do good.