People who reach the age of over 60 years are considered seniors. This increasing age is accompanied by weight gain, a loss of muscle mass, and a higher risk of problems affecting your heart, memory, and more (*). You may have heard about the keto diet for seniors to promote health.
The keto diet, which is a very low-carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat eating plan is being used by many individuals to achieve weight loss and address a variety of diseases. Given that keto follows a particular set of rules, which can be challenging in the beginning, you might be wondering if the benefits are worth it.
In today’s guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the keto diet for older adults. Find out its advantages, risks, considerations, and success strategies.
Cutting carbs to less than 50 grams and prioritizing your intake of protein and healthy fats puts you in a metabolic state called ketosis. Ketone bodies such as beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) produced during ketosis have anti-inflammatory effects (*). Furthermore, eating enough protein and fat can boost your function, plus lower your cravings, especially for sugar.
Here are the benefits of keto for seniors backed by research:
It becomes harder to lose weight as you get older due to a slowed metabolism, reduced physical activity, and hormonal changes (low testosterone in men and low estrogen in women).
Healthy weight loss after the age of 60 can be achieved through a keto diet. By reducing carbs, your body burns energy in the form of stored fat, instead of glucose. A review done on 13 randomized controlled trials found that overweight and obese individuals achieved long-term reductions in their weight. The effects were even greater compared to low-fat diets (*).
It’s important to note that healthy weight loss in seniors can lead to reduced joint discomfort and improved mobility (*).
Muscle mass preservation
The loss of muscle mass is another consequence of aging. Muscle mass decreases up to 8% each decade after 30 years old and the decline becomes greater after the age of 60 (*). Preserving muscle has many benefits, such as reduced body fat, increased strength, and improved brain function (*).
Being a diet that’s almost high in protein, the keto diet promotes muscle protein synthesis. Furthermore, research shows that ketone bodies may prevent the breakdown of muscle mass during aging or when on a low-calorie diet (*).
Blood sugar reduction
According to the National Institute on Aging, millions of older Americans have prediabetes — a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal but do not yet qualify for diabetes (*). However, if not addressed, prediabetes can increase a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
The keto diet is supported by scientific research as a tool for improving blood sugar control. Findings from different studies have shown a significant decrease in fasting blood glucose and HbA1c (average blood sugar over the past 3 months) (*).
A word of caution: Talk to a knowledgeable and experienced healthcare provider about your intention to start a keto diet. If you’re already taking glucose-lowering medications, they may need to be adjusted to prevent your blood sugar from dropping too low.
Prevents nutrient deficiencies
Optimal nutrition becomes more important as an individual reaches old age. A reduced appetite is common in seniors due to changes in their digestion, sense of smell, and taste. Unfortunately, these factors contribute to decreased food intake, ultimately affecting their nutritional status (*).
Following a keto diet can prevent micronutrient deficiencies that could lead to cognitive decline. Examples of these nutrients affecting cognition include vitamin C, B complex, calcium, magnesium, and zinc (*).
There are plenty of nutrient-dense foods available on the keto diet. Replacing high-carb foods (e.g. grains, potatoes, pasta, and other starchy veggies and fruits) with options like meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, avocados, and green leafy veggies, ensure that you get enough vitamins and minerals.
Older adults may experience unpleasant side effects while starting keto for the first time. These side effects are known as the keto flu because they mimic flu symptoms. Watch out for symptoms, such as fatigue, brain fog, increased sugar or carb cravings, muscle cramps, and digestive issues within the first few days of keto.
Keep in mind that keto flu is only temporary. It goes away after a few weeks of sticking with the keto diet. Make sure that during your transition, you take electrolytes and eat lots of healthy fats.
Is keto diet safe for seniors taking medication? Note that another potential risk is hypoglycemia (abnormally low blood sugar) and hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure) for seniors who are on blood glucose and blood pressure medications. Be sure to seek advice from a doctor who’s experienced in adjusting medication on a low-carb diet.
While the keto diet can be effective for older people, some considerations should be made to implement it properly:
- Existing medical conditions: We recommend consulting with a healthcare provider if you’re currently diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, and kidney disease. Note that the absolute contraindication to a keto diet is when you have a condition that doesn’t properly digest fats.
- Health and fitness goals: Are you doing keto to lose weight? Manage your blood sugar? Identifying specific goals will allow you to track your progress along the way.
- Access to keto-friendly foods: Affordable low-carb items that can be found at your nearest grocery include eggs, chicken thighs, and frozen veggies (e.g. broccoli, mushrooms, riced cauliflower)
- Long-term adherence: While there are different ways to approach the keto diet — examples are the standard keto diet, cyclical keto diet, pescatarian keto, and vegetarian keto — the most important thing is consistency.
- Tracking your progress: Revisit your goals as you go along this journey. Use a blood ketone meter or urine strips to check ketosis. Get support from a healthcare provider. Check your health markers for improvements. Do journaling to become aware of your eating habits.
Pursuing a keto diet over 60 is a great goal, but before you get started, here are a few essential things to take into account:
- Know your keto macros: Use a free keto calculator to determine the amount of carbs, fat, and protein you need each day to reach and maintain ketosis. The average carb count is usually 30 grams, but you can decrease it further or increase it to 50 grams.
- Get enough electrolytes: Prevent dehydration by taking a keto-friendly electrolyte drink. These are especially helpful for overcoming the keto flu. Note that seniors are at a greater risk of dehydration, which makes electrolyte intake a priority.
- Have a list of foods to eat and avoid: In general, choose foods that have very few carbs. All animal-based foods (except for highly processed ones) are keto-friendly, including non-starchy veggies and fruits like leafy greens, broccoli, berries, and avocados.
- Incorporate cardio and strength training: Maintaining physical activity is one of the best things seniors can do as part of their keto diet. Cardiovascular exercises, such as brisk walking, build endurance. On the other hand, strength training exercises, such as squats and using dumbbells to work their arms, boost their muscle mass and stability.
- Have keto-friendly snacks on hand: Snacking for seniors ensures that they obtain adequate nutrients. The best low-carb options include boiled eggs, cheddar cheese slices, almonds, and cashews.
Even at the age of 60, remember that it’s never too late to get healthier! By switching to a lower carbohydrate eating pattern, such as the keto diet, you can lose weight and lower your risk of disease.
Keto can be difficult to start, especially if you’ve been eating huge amounts of carbohydrates for years. Get familiar with keto-friendly foods and incorporate other lifestyle practices, such as exercise. Remember to consult a healthcare provider who can help you adhere to this diet as safely as possible.