With age, the human body changes in many ways. For example, metabolism (digestion) tends to slow down, and muscle mass diminishes. Such changes can affect how your body processes and uses nutrients from the food you eat. Therefore, you must know about these changes and how they impact your nutritional needs.

Understanding how our nutritional needs change as we age will help us determine what foods we should prefer in our diet.

In this article, you will learn which nutrients are essential for older adults and how they can optimize their diet as they age.

Nutrition Needs as We Age

Fitness Buffhq says, “Proper nutrition all through adulthood is important in laying the foundation for healthy aging, and your body’s needs on certain nutrients change as you age.”

Your metabolism tends to slow down as you age, and your nutritional needs get affected.

Alas, studies show older adults are less likely to eat nutrient-rich foods. In addition, their reduced ability to absorb and metabolize essential nutrients makes them more prone to nutrient deficiencies and chronic health problems.

According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Health Statistics, about 85% of adults aged 65 and older have at least one chronic disease. (Source)

The good news is that proper nutrition can help shore up healthy aging and lower the risks of developing chronic issues and other health problems. Older adults who eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet generally live a longer, healthy life and have reduced risks of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, certain cancers, and so much more.

Critical Nutrients for Older Adults, According to Experts

Specific nutritional needs vary from person to person. However, certain nutrients are generally crucial for most older adults.

In general, older adults require fewer calories but need greater amounts of fiber, protein, and specific vitamins and minerals, like calcium, folate, potassium, and vitamin D.

Protein

As you age, you tend to lose muscle mass and strength – a condition called sarcopenia. It increases the risks of developing medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes and can affect your mobility and independence.

Protein is critical for retaining muscle mass, so it’s necessary for older adults to eat enough foods containing high-quality protein throughout the day. Good protein sources include fish, lean meats, poultry, eggs, legumes, tofu, nuts, and seeds.

Experts recommend that older adults aim for at least 1.2 grams to two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily.

What to eat to meet your protein needs

Fiber

Fiber plays an essential role in maintaining/improving metabolic function and gut health. In addition, studies show a high-fiber diet is linked with improved physical performance, increased longevity, better cognitive function, and a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Foods like whole-grain bread, apples, berries, broccoli, and avocados, are good sources of dietary fiber, but there are many ways to boost your fiber intake. If you are not able to eat enough whole foods such as whole grains, beans, and fiber-rich fruits, you may like to take a fiber supplement to maintain healthy digestion.

As per the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, while women over the age of 51 should target at least twenty-two grams of fiber, men of the same age should aim for at least twenty-eight grams daily.

How to increase fiber intake for older adults?

Calcium

As you age, your body tends to assimilate less calcium from your diet. As a result, your body removes some calcium from your bones to meet your calcium needs. This makes your bones weaker and susceptible to fractures. Calcium deficiencies have also been shown to be associated with abnormal heart rhythms, seizures, and numbness and tingling in the fingers.

Though dairy products—like milk, yogurt, and cheese—are popular sources of calcium, they aren’t the only options. Green leafy vegetables like collard greens & kale, calcium-fortified cereal, and sardines are other excellent sources of calcium.

It’s suggested that women above the age of 51 consume at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily. The suggestion for men is slightly less at 1,000 milligrams for those aged 51 to 70 and 1,200 milligrams for those 71 and older.

Calcium deficiency, symptoms & signs

Potassium

As you get older, potassium is one of the most essential minerals for maintaining good health. Your body needs it for muscle contraction and normal heart, brain, and nerve function. As a result, older adults who eat potassium-rich diets usually have better health, including a lower risk of high blood pressure & strokes, osteoporosis, and kidney stones. But, as you age, your kidney function becomes less efficient, which may reduce the potassium levels in your body.

Bananas, dried apricots, potatoes, and lentils are good options if you’re looking for potassium-rich foods. But don’t go overboard; consuming too much potassium could come with its own set of risks, including irregular heart rate, muscle weakness, and nausea.

Although the recommended dose of potassium is 4,700 milligrams a day, it’s essential to check with your doctor to ascertain how much potassium is right for you, as higher potassium levels can lead to medical complications for people with certain conditions—including chronic kidney disease.

Folate

Folate is essential for adequately functioning the nervous system at all ages. So as we age, it’s crucial to have enough folate levels to reduce risks of decline in cognitive function (including Alzheimer’s), depression, and hearing loss.

Folate is contained in a variety of foods, including meats, beans, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products. Especially foods such as beef liver, spinach, broccoli, avocado, and some breakfast cereals are good sources to enhance your folate intake.

As per the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults aged fifty-one years and above should consume the equivalent of 400 micrograms of folate daily.

Iron deficiency treatment

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is linked with increased risks of developing osteoporosis, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and impaired cognitive function in aging adults. Unfortunately, older adults are particularly susceptible to vitamin D deficiency because of lack of exposure to sunlight, which may occur due to several reasons, including lack of mobility, isolation, or concerns about sun exposure with sensitive skin.

If you’re searching for a natural way to increase your vitamin D levels without sun exposure, foods such as sardines, salmon, eggs, and vitamin D-fortified kinds of milk are just a few of the foods you can include in your diet.

According to the current dietary guidelines, adults aged, between 51 to 70 are recommended to consume 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. At the age of 71, the recommendation increases to 800IU for both males and females.

How to get more vitamin D from sunshine? 

Expert Tips for Optimizing Your Diet as You Get Older

To get adequate amounts of these high-priority nutrients, doctors stress the importance of eating a well-balanced diet with a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods.

Choose thoughtfully by aiming to consume real, whole foods containing a mix of good-quality carbohydrates, fats, enough protein, vitamins & minerals. In addition, try to eat a wide range of fruits and vegetables of all different colors, which will ensure the intake of many beneficial phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals essential for optimal health.

Also, please speak to your healthcare provider about your prescription medications to know how they could affect your nutritional needs. Don’t forget to discuss the possible impact of the medicines you take on vitamin levels since this information can change your recommended intake dozes.

After all, it’s necessary to ensure you get the proper nutrients as you get older to maintain optimal health. Eating a well-balanced diet is an effective way to ensure you’re getting what your body requires, but it’s essential to talk to your doctor about your specific nutrient needs and any supplementation that you might need.

About Author: Renu Bakshi, AKA Fitness Buffhq, is ISSA Certified Elite Trainer. He Renu Bakshi - Fitness Buffhqpassed Personal Fitness Trainer Course, Nutrition Health Coach course & Specialist Exercise Therapy course from ISSA, the USA, obtaining + 97% marks. He shares his experience and knowledge about nutrition and effective workouts to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter how old you may be. The author says: “For me, age is just a number!”