For many of us, our relationship with food changes as we age. Our sense of taste usually develops from a love of sugar-filled sweets as children to a more complex flavor palate as adults. But just because we tend to expand our horizons with food in adulthood, that doesn’t mean our favorite foods will necessarily change. The effect that food has on your body, however, sure can.
The changes in the way food affect our bodies can sneak up on us. The diet you had in your teens and 20s does not digest the same way in your 30s and 40s, and that change continues the older we get. We just have to accept that it’s no longer a peaceful process, right? Well, maybe not.
Beyond age-related changes to the digestive tract, lifestyle factors like stress or alcohol use can make matters more complicated. Figuring out which of these factors trigger your specific digestion issues isn’t an easy process. But, it can be done.
Have you reached a point in your life where your favorite foods aren’t loving you back? Here are a few reasons why we become more sensitive to certain foods as we age, and some things we can do to enjoy our favorite foods again.
1. Lack Of Saliva
Did you know that as we get older, our salivary glands produce smaller quantities of saliva? It’s true, and this could be a big reason why your favorite foods aren’t loving you back. The chemical process of digestion begins in your mouth the moment you take a bite.
The mouth secretes enzymes via the saliva to break down food. So, that lack of saliva as we age can inhibit food breakdown and lead to dry mouth. Which, in turn, can cause digestive issues. There is no way to prevent that decrease in saliva production as we age, but, you can actually stimulate saliva production by sucking on sugar-free or sour candies.
2. Eating Too Fast
Chewing your food is the start of the mechanical process of digestion, and how you chew has a significant impact on that process. If you are rushing through your meals and eating too fast—swallowing large chunks of food—this could be causing increased levels of digestive discomfort.
Larger pieces of food take longer to break down in the stomach, which can end in gastrointestinal discomfort. Taking time to chew your food and breaking it down into smaller pieces can help avoid a post-meal upset tummy. Bonus tip: good dental hygiene also plays an important role in proper chewing.
3. High Blood Sugar
The digestive tract pushes food through the gut by moving in a rhythmic manner. But, if your blood sugar levels are always elevated, that can damage the nerves that cause that much-needed digestive tract movement.
As a result, the stomach will empty slower and symptoms can emerge like bloating, heartburn, reflux, and nausea. If you have issues with elevated blood sugar levels, you should definitely see your doctor. You can also help alleviate those symptoms by avoiding high-fat foods, eating smaller meals, and not eating within 30 minutes of bedtime.
There are also “trigger foods” that are the usual suspects when it comes to irritating the upper GI tract—chocolate, acidic foods, spicy foods, and caffeine. If your favorite foods fall into those categories, the chances of them loving you back as you age are slim. Consider making those things a rare treat instead of including them in your daily diet.
4. Taking Medication
Medications for pain management (narcotics) or conditions like diabetes can affect the digestive tract by slowing down the rate your food will move through it. If you are having problems with digestion and are on any kind of prescribed medication, that’s a discussion you definitely need to have with your doctor.
Side effects from meds can cause reduced saliva production, constipation, and nutrition deficiencies. Some can also increase the risk for an overgrowth of Clostridium difficile (C. diff) colitis, a bacteria that naturally inhabit the GI tract.
5. Whacky Microbiome
The last stage of digestion takes place in the small bowel. But, the bacteria we need in the small bowel to do that job changes as we age. In addition to a decrease in the biodiversity of bacteria, there is an increase in proinflammatory bacteria and no change in the number of health-promoting bacteria.
Eating a high-fiber diet and avoiding processed foods can help with any issues of bacteria overgrowth and stimulate microbiome diversity. However, you will also need to talk to your doctor and get an antibiotic.