Everyone needs the proper amount of vitamins and minerals in their diet to maximize their overall health and well-being, regardless of age. But as we age, our bodies change, and our physiology often changes, too. Even putting special diets to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes aside, seniors have different nutritional requirements than those of younger people. Here's a look at a few important nutrients your aging loved ones could be missing out on by not paying attention to their specific dietary needs, as well as some other important dietary guidelines.
Decreased Vitamin B12 absorption
Older adults cannot absorb Vitamin B12 from the foods they eat as efficiently as younger people, according to WebMD. Vitamin B12 is essential for creating red blood cells and DNA, so seniors may need to eat more foods rich in B12, such as fish, meat, poultry, milk, and other dairy products to ensure they're getting enough of this essential vitamin.
Calcium helps to maintain bone health
Calcium's most important function in the body, while it serves many purposes, is building and maintaining bone health. It also helps to lower blood pressure. However seniors tend to consume less calcium in their diets, which can cause the body to leech calcium from their bones, thus leading to brittle bones and an increased risk of fractures. The National Institutes of Health recommends that women age 50 and older and men age 71 and older get at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily, while men between the ages of 51 and 70 should consume at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. For the proper calcium intake, seniors should consume three servings of low-fat milk and other dairy products daily, or opt for calcium-rich foods like kale and broccoli.
Vitamin D goes hand-in-hand with calcium
Vitamin D is necessary for the body to properly absorb calcium, so a deficiency in Vitamin D could lead to the same issues caused by not getting enough calcium in a senior's diet. According to WebMD, "Recent findings suggest that D may also protect against some chronic diseases, including cancer, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune diseases. In older people, vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to increased risk of falling." Vitamin D is primarily produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight, but older adults can ensure their bodies are getting enough Vitamin D by consuming more foods that are fortified with Vitamin D, such as cereal, milk, yogurt, and juice. Check the label to make sure the foods are fortified to get the maximum benefit.
Omega-3 fatty acids may lower risk of chronic illness
Omega-3 fatty acids are another important essential nutrient for seniors. Omega-3 fatty acids "have been proven to reduce inflammation, which can cause heart disease, cancer and arthritis," according to AgingCare.com. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many types of fish, walnuts, canola oil, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil. AgingCare.com recommends that older adults consume foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids at least twice weekly. Supplements are also available, so seniors who have conditions such as heart disease or arthritis (or are at high risk for these conditions) may want to talk with their physician about whether a supplement would be beneficial in the prevention or treatment of disease.
What about calories?
It's hard to know how many calories seniors should be consuming each day. Especially as we grow older, the body's metabolism tends to slow down, meaning it doesn't process energy as efficiently as it used to. HelpGuide.org provides a useful breakdown of calorie recommendations for adults age 50 and older based on activity levels, using data from the National Institute on Aging:
This is by no means an all-inclusive list of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that older adults should be paying close attention to, but they are among the most important. Overall, consuming a healthy diet rich in essential nutrients will help your aging loved ones stay vibrant and healthy, and help to prevent disease and illness.