Living a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone no matter your age. However, as we age certain nutrients become more important for maintaining good health.
Calcium and Vitamin D
To maintain bone health and prevent diseases like osteoporosis, older adults need more calcium and vitamin D. It’s recommended you have 3 servings of calcium-rich foods each day, and in some cases, your doctor may recommend a calcium and/or vitamin D supplement. Some examples include:
- Dark leafy greens
- Cheese (in moderate amounts)
- Fortified cereals
To get a little extra vitamin D, older adults should get out in the sun for at least 20 minutes a day (weather permitting). Remember to always wear sunscreen with SPF though!
Many people older than 50 do not get enough vitamin B12 because the body doesn’t process this nutrient as efficiently as you age, due to issues with acids and enzymes in the stomach. Experts estimate that ~20% of older adults don’t get enough vitamin B12. This is a big problem because a B12 deficiency can be a contributing factor for anemia, neuropathy, and overall cognitive decline.
Fortified cereal, lean meat and some fish and seafood are sources of vitamin B12. Ask your doctor or a registered dietitian nutritionist if you need a vitamin B12 supplement.
Eat more fiber-rich foods to help keep your digestive system on track, which is especially important for older adults because intestinal mobility slows down. Fiber also can help lower your risk for heart disease and prevent Type 2 diabetes. Eat whole-grain bread and cereals, and more beans and peas — along with fruits and vegetables, which also provide fiber. Try to avoid lots of simple carbs like white bread or sugary desserts.
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends that total fiber intake for adults older than 50 should be at least 30 grams per day for men and 21 grams for women. Because insoluble fiber absorbs water, you need to drink plenty of water, too, or a high-fiber diet can lead to constipation and compound existing problems with bowel movements. Older adults sometimes have difficulty regulating fluid levels because their thirst mechanism may be suppressed, so a conscious effort to drink a total of eight to 10 glasses of water is a good idea. Purified water, fresh juice, herbal tea and other non-caffeinated liquids are best.
Potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte in the body. As the kidneys decline with age, the body's urine output increases and the mechanisms which control reabsorption and excretion of nutrients stop working properly. This results in excess excretion of potassium in the urine.
Increasing potassium along with reducing sodium (salt) may lower your risk of high blood pressure. Fruits, vegetables, and beans are good sources of potassium. Also, select and prepare foods with little or no added salt. However, if you have kidney disease your doctor will probably advise following a low potassium diet.
Foods that are low in saturated fats and trans fat help reduce your risk of heart disease. Most of the fats you eat should be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are primarily found in nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, and fish.
Click here to read our recent article on 7 Healthy Fats For Seniors.