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4 Healthy Aging Secrets from a Registered Dietitian

By Sixty and Me February 25, 2018 Interviews

Nutrition plays a vital role in our health – but do we know which nutrients are best for us as we age? Join us in discussion with registered dietitian Ashley Koff who has a wealth of information to share. Enjoy the show!


Margaret Manning:

My guest today is Ashley Koff. Ashley is a nutrition expert and a registered dietitian. She has written several books, including a workbook called Road Trip to Better Health. Welcome to the show, Ashley.

Ashley Koff:

Hi! Thanks for having me.


I am so excited to have you here. Our community currently consists of about 500 thousand women over fifty, and we really care about our health.


Health is the one thing that we all want. Nobody really wants better nutrition, but we want better health. If we don’t have it, we want to get it, and if we have we want to keep it.


Yes, it’s the key to everything. Whether it is financial security, travel or independence, they all pivot around good health.

As we get older, our bodies constantly surprise us with all kinds of freaky things. So today we would like to talk about nutrition and the kinds of nutrients that our body needs as we get a little older. What are your thoughts on that topic?


I think we’ve done such a bad job where aging is concerned. We advertise it negatively with all those anti-aging creams and potions that you absolutely have to get. All of that creates a lot of stress around aging.

We need to understand that an aging body, just like an aging car, needs attention. However, how well we age is reflective of how we treated our body beforehand. Luckily, today we know with certainty what better nutrition is and that it powers your better health.

Notice I am not saying perfect nutrition, because it’s not about making perfect choices; it’s about making healthy choices more often. And so, with this line of thought, perfection should be abandoned, and the first thing you need to do is get your nutrition evaluated.

If you walk into my door as a patient, I’m going to first sit down and ask about how you are feeling. Then I’m going to look at a couple of days of a food journal, and we are going to discuss whether you are getting better nutrition.

Better nutrition has four core pillars: quality, quantity, nutrient balance and frequency. In the nutrient space you will hear the word balance. Nutrition used to be all about calories, but they don’t enable your better health, they just give you energy. And different kinds of calories give us different energy.

Nutrients are the resources that our bodies need to run better. As we age, there are certain nutrients of which our bodies need a little bit more.

A lot of people might think of calcium right away. Now calcium is our contractor nutrient. It helps contract our muscles. What we actually need though, is magnesium. Magnesium is Mother Nature’s muscle relaxant. It exists inside of us to turn off our stress response.

Unfortunately, 70 to 80 percent of women just in the States are not even meeting their recommended daily allowance of magnesium. That is the minimal amount needed just to keep us from having decease-related issues.

When I say magnesium turns off stress, this means it helps reduce headaches. It also helps relax our physical muscles, our digestive muscles and our heart muscle. It also works with 500 different enzymatic reactions in the body. So, magnesium is at the top of the list.


I have a question. What is the definition of nutrients? I’m asking because when you say calcium or magnesium I think of vitamins. So, if it’s not too complicated, what is the difference?


Calcium and magnesium are minerals which work in opposition to each other. I think one of the reasons why you think of vitamins is that for decades marketing companies have said that we need our vitamins. But our body doesn’t need only vitamins and minerals.

For example, there are nutrients that are found in plants, and we call those phytonutrients. They are responsible for helping in our cleanup system and our detoxification system. One antioxidant, in particular, is found in the highest amounts in broccoli. It’s called glucoraphanin.

Glucoraphanin becomes sulforaphane in the body, which is responsible for supporting phase two of our detoxification. This is really important for us as we age. We want to try and reduce our exposure to toxins, maybe eat organic more often, use better cleaning and skin products. But don’t go overboard.

We need to understand that our bodies have a detoxification system. What that system does is, it takes things like our used hormones, like estrogen, and breaks them down so they can be eliminated by way of the urine or the other route.

But without converting them first, they can’t leave the body. And it is sulforaphane, which came from the broccoli, that will accomplish that task. So, my recommendation of a really important nutrient that supports our detoxification system as we age is glucoraphanin and sulforaphane.

We get it by eating broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables. I also supplement sulforaphane and glucoraphanin in my patients as they are ageing because I want them to have a balance of nutrients without having to worry about eating broccoli twice a week.

So that makes two very important nutrients: magnesium and glucoraphanin. The third one is called coenzyme Q10 or co-Q10.

Co-Q10 is a very potent anti-oxidant, and as such it helps clean up the body from free radicals that are the products of oxidation in the body. It is also an electron donor, and that actually means that it helps prevent some of the oxidation from even happening.

Coenzyme Q10 is very important for our overall health. It’s really critical for healthy cells, but especially for cognitive functions.

We take it to an extreme in my Parkinson’s patients. We have them take really high doses of Co-Q10, because it’s really important for making the muscles relax and stops the tremors.


Thank you for describing everything so well, Ashley. Can we back up a bit though, to free radicals? I want to make sure that we understand what those are. Are they things that are in the environment around us?


Our bodies can take in environmental toxins that can create free radicals. Basically, free radicals are the unwanted waste products in our body that can create decease. And since they are free, they can cling onto things where they don’t belong and thus interfere with our body’s normal functioning.

Here is the tricky part: normal functioning in the body creates free radicals. So, we shouldn’t think that living in a bubble or going to extremes will free us from those free radicals. Our body creates them as a result of the stress response, in digestion of food and other perfectly normal processes.

If you think of free radicals as dirt, and we make a habit of cleaning the dirt of our house on a regular basis, then that is going to increase our health, because we don’t have as much of that dirt accumulating. That is really all there is to it.


Wonderful. So thus far we have a list of three things: magnesium for stress, broccoli for toxicity and Co-Q10 for the free radicals or dirt.


Right, Co-Q10 is for anti-oxidant and cognitive function. One of the reasons why Co-Q10 is really important for us is because we don’t make it ourselves as we’re ageing. It’s tougher to get it from food sources as we are not eating as much seafood or meat.

So, Co-Q10 is a good candidate to take in a supplemental form. However, if you are taking a statin drug to address your cholesterol, you should also know that Co-Q10 exists on the cholesterol molecule because it’s fat soluble.

My patients who are on a statin drug also take Co-Q10, but at different times in the day. That’s really important to remember.

The final of the four nutrients is vitamin D, which is actually not a vitamin. Vitamin D is a hormone, and it takes part in our body’s hormonal response in building healthy bones.

We often think of bones as these formed things that are not alive inside of us, but they are a complex matrix of activity and are very much alive. Vitamin D is part of the escort system that takes calcium and delivers it into our bones. That’s why vitamin D is really critical for us.

As a food source, you can get Vitamin D from wild salmon or sardines or mushrooms, but we have to consume a lot of those foods to get an adequate level of vitamin D.


Could you very briefly give us food sources for each of the four nutrients? Which foods are rich in them?


Yes, of course. As a quick note, my website has resources that are very helpful. For instance, I have a one-page evaluation quiz to show you where you are in your nutrition. There’s also a page of tips to better your nutrition.

Then I have sample menus you can look at. Those menus will show you all the different foods, what you get from them and how much you need to eat to get the amounts of nutrients your body needs on a daily or weekly basis.

So, magnesium is awesome, because we get it from chocolate. When you choose a better quality chocolate, like if you upgrade to more cacao and get in a good source of chocolate, that is going to be great for you.

Cashews and wholegrains are a great source of magnesium. It’s interesting that when you go from a wholegrain wheat to white flour there’s a 70% reduction of magnesium. So if you choose to eat wholegrain rather than white flour you’re going to do great.

Calcium is also very important for you. You can get it from the sardines with the little bones in there or from wild salmon. You do not ever need to have dairy in order to get your calcium in. Obviously, you can get calcium from dairy, but you also can get it from greens that are a great source of magnesium as well.

When we talk about the glucoraphanin, broccoli’s my go-to for that one. In terms of Co-Q10, you find it in animal meats and fats. Then finally, for vitamin D, I already mentioned wild salmon, sardines and also mushrooms.


You have a wealth of information on your website, and I think you have pulled this together beautifully. Women our age have tried everything to stay healthy and we sometimes get overwhelmed by it you’re your list of four is great. Of course, you can add a couple of extras like probiotics or whatever, but those are the ones you need to stay healthy.


Also, as a last note, I want to say that it’s very important to know your current state of health and wellbeing before you decide to try anything new. I’ve seen many people read or hear about something new and trendy and starting it right away without prior assessment of their current condition.

You have to know where you are before you head to a new ‘destination.’ The resources and tools on my website come from 20 years as a practitioner making sure that we start people off with assessing where they are before starting any new program.


Wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing all this information. It has been so helpful to me personally, and I’m sure the community is going to love it. Thank you so much, Ashley.


Thank you.

Have you had your nutrition evaluated? What are some nutrients that you make sure you always include in your diet? Please share your tips and insights with the community.

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The Author

Sixty and Me is a community of over 500,000 women over 60 founded by Margaret Manning. Our editorial team publishes articles on lifestyle topics including fashion, dating, retirement and money.

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