Scientists reveal the worst time for older adults to drink tea

DUBLIN, Ireland — Millions of people around the world drink tea each day. The healthy beverage is a staple in many countries, which still observe “tea time” to this day. For older adults however, a new report is revealing when it’s actually a “bad time” for tea time. Scientists in Ireland find people over the age of 65 should actually avoid the drink while having their daily meals.

The new guidance comes from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), which is updating their nutritional recommendations for older adults in the country. As lifespans increase, seniors are becoming a larger portion of the population in many nations, including the United States. In fact, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau projected that older adults would actually outnumber children in America by 2034.

With that in mind, Irish officials are making sure their facts about healthy eating and dieting are scientifically valid. The report, Scientific Recommendations for Food-Based Dietary Guidelines for Older Adults, examines the current diets of people over 65 in Ireland — over 630,000 seniors. Researchers say this group includes those who are still living healthy, independent lives and others with chronic conditions and diseases needing regular care.

The results of this review reveal, generally, the dietary goals of older adults are still similar to younger adults. However, FSAI scientists find older people need a more protein-dense diet to avoid frailty. This includes consuming more high-quality proteins which stimulate muscle protein, like meats, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs.

So why is tea bad during mealtime?

Researchers also examined the intake of 10 specific nutrients, including protein, carbohydrates, fiber, fat, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and zinc. This is where the FSAI discovered the surprising negative impact of drinking tea.

Scientists say drinking strong tea actually interferes with the absorption of iron and zinc. Therefore, seniors should avoid drinking such teas while eating and only have it between meals.

While researchers advise spacing out the tea-drinking, they still recommend older adults get plenty of fluids throughout the day. The report finds seniors are at higher risk of “low intake” dehydration. Their recommendation is for older women to aim for 1.6 liters of fluid daily and two liters for older men.

Weight loss and dieting is not always a good strategy

The team also finds losing weight after age 65 is a tricky issue to navigate. Researchers actually advise overweight seniors with a low risk of health problems to avoid weight loss diets. The report says this kind of dieting can lead to losing muscle mass, a warning sign for frailty.

For obese older adults, researchers recommend they receive individual intervention for their condition to ensure the weight loss doesn’t lead to the loss of too much muscle tissue. These programs typically involve slow weight loss through physical activity.

When it comes to eating right, the report also recommends cutting out salty foods. Researchers note that the sense of taste weakens as people age, leading to eaters consuming more flavor-enhancers like salt. Instead, FSAI recommends that older adults switch to alternatives like herbs and spices.

Other recommendations from the report include maintaining a healthy diet full of high-fiber carbohydrates and reducing sugar intake. Scientists also say older adults should take one 15 µg vitamin D supplement daily.

“On retirement, people in good health can look forward to entering the ‘golden years’ of their third age, filled with many possibilities and interests. The preservation of muscle mass and skeletal strength are both critical to maintaining functional autonomy and independence as we get older. This report looks at the positive role nutritional intake can have in this population group to enable them to live life, and to live it to the full,” concludes Ita Saul, Chair of the FSAI’s Public Health Nutrition Subcommittee in a media release.

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