10 Nutritional Needs to Change as You Ageby Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N. Health Professional, Medical Reviewer
As we age, our nutritional needs change significantly. Here are 10 nutrients you need to be aware of to stay healthy into your 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond.
Beginning in our 30s, our body’s metabolic rate declines. We need fewer calories as we age because we move less, have decreased muscle mass, and a declining metabolic rate. Therefore, you need to eat more nutrient-rich foods (and less empty calories) to be able to meet all of your nutritional needs while decreasing your caloric intake overall.
As you get older, you are less likely to be aware of your thirst. Additionally, medications can make you more prone to dehydration. Dehydration is one of the leading causes of hospitalization in the elderly. A good rule of thumb for meeting your fluid needs is to drink at least half of your body’s weight in fluid ounces of water each day.
Eating at least 25-35 mg of fiber each day is essential for normal bowel function, particularly as you age. Fiber can also decrease your blood cholesterol, which naturally increases with age. The best sources of fiber are fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
4. Sodium and Potassium
These electrolytes are essential for the regulation of blood pressure. Since blood pressure gradually rises with age, it is more important than ever to consume a diet that is low in sodium and high in potassium-rich foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoiding processed foods is the best way to decrease sodium in your diet.
Calcium needs increase with age. Women over 18 need at least 1000 mg per day, while women over 50 need at least ,1200 mg per day. Men over 70 also need 1,200 mg each day. The chance of becoming lactose intolerant also increases with age since your body does not produce as much lactase to help you digest lactose (the naturally occurring sugar in milk). Choosing calcium-rich foods such as dairy products, leafy green vegetables, and calcium fortified foods such as juices and cereals is a great way to get extra calcium into your diet.
6. Vitamin D
Consuming adequate vitamin D becomes more important as you age, since aging skin has a decreased ability to change natural sunlight into vitamin D, which also can inhibit calcium absorption. Adequate amounts of vitamin D and calcium are crucial to prevent bone loss. A mature adult needs 600 IUs per day. Men and women over 70 need 800 IUs daily.
7. Vitamin B12
As you age, your volume of stomach acid decreases, so vitamin B12 is not absorbed as well. To be sure you’re getting adequate amounts of vitamin B12, consume lean meats and poultry, dairy products, and eggs, since vitamin B12 is only found in animal products.
Women over 50 need 50 mg per day of iron, while men only need 10 mg. High amounts of iron are difficult to get from foods since most foods contain only trace amounts of iron. The best sources include red meat, poultry, fish, and enriched breads and cereals.
Lutein is found primarily in leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli, fruits such as grapes and oranges, and egg yolks. Research has shown that lutein plays a role in helping to save eyes from macular degeneration.
10. Saturated fat
While limiting saturated fat intake is a recommendation for all ages, it is increasingly important to decrease saturated fat intake as you age, since the risk for heart disease increases with age. Animal products are the primary source of saturated fat, so be sure to choose lean cuts of meat and poultry and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
The Bottom Line
While some nutrient needs do not change with age, it is important to be aware of how the changes in your body affects the absorption of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. If you are having a difficult time meeting your nutritional needs and feel that you need a supplement, talk to your primary care physician or registered dietitian about which supplements are most appropriate for you.