As we age our body’s nutrient needs shift. Proper nutrition for older adults helps protect against age-related chronic diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. If you’re curious about the healthy diet needs of older adults and want an easy healthy eating guide for meeting them, then keep reading!
Nutrient Needs of Older Adults
Healthy aging depends on good nutrition, which means varying your food intake within the five food groups as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at usda.gov: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy.
Due to the increased nutritional needs of older adults, however, there are still a few key nutrients that older adults tend to miss out on even when following these smart food choices. And the consequence is the loss of bone and muscle (a condition called sarcopenia), which can leave seniors susceptible to a greater risk of fractures, falls, osteoporosis, and poorer recovery and health outcomes.
Calcium and Vitamin D for Bone Health
Calcium and vitamin D are the bone health dynamic duo. Calcium builds and maintains bones and vitamin D enables your body to absorb calcium.
Unfortunately, most adults over 50 in the United States don’t get enough of either nutrient. Women and men 50+ take in 589-649 milligrams and 728-777 milligrams of calcium a day, respectively. Compare this to the recommended intake of 1200 milligrams for women 51+ and 1000 milligrams for men 51-70 and 1300 milligrams for men above 70.
Mayo Clinic endocrinologist Dr. Robert Wermers explains, "The ability to maintain calcium balance worsens and bone loss accelerates after 50 years of age. Your risk of fracture also increases with older age. In fact, several studies have shown that calcium combined with low daily doses of vitamin D reduces fracture risk and increases bone density."
In addition to building strong teeth and bones, calcium regulates muscle contractions and helps the blood clot normally. Vitamin D also helps promote mental health in seniors, and keeps the immune system strong against infection and cancer.
The body cannot make calcium or vitamin D on its own, but we can get these two vital nutrients from the following healthy foods.
|Dairy products (low-fat milk, cheese, yogurt)||Sunshine|
|Green leafy vegetables (kale, okra, Swiss chard)||Cod liver oil|
|Seeds (poppy, sesame, chia)||Mushrooms|
|Sardines & canned salmon||Cooked salmon|
|Beans & lentils||Herring|
|Almonds||Canned tuna & sardines|
|Fortified foods (breads, cereals, whole grains)||Egg yolks|
|Amaranth||Fortified milk & soy milk|
|Edamame||Fortified orange juice|
High cholesterol is a concern among elderly people, but you can still meet your nutrient needs with low-fat dairy products, which get rid of any unnecessary fat to help keep cholesterol levels within the healthy range.
Vitamin B12 for Cell Metabolism
After age 50, the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 declines, and estimates put vitamin B12 deficiency at 5-15% in adults.
Vitamin B12 helps red blood cells form, encourages cell growth, supports immunity and bone health, and boosts brain function in older adults. An insufficiency can cause changes in mood and personality, memory difficulties, a tingling or prickly feeling in the hands and legs, and fatigue or anemia.
You can support your vitamin B12 needs by taking a supplement and eating the following foods:
- Organ meats
- Fortified cereal
- Nutritional yeast
- Fortified milk alternatives
- Milk & dairy products
Protein for Muscle Health
Along with bone loss, one of the primary health problems faced by older adults is sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss. But the loss of muscle mass with age is entirely preventable when you commit to a physical activity program that incorporates strength training and feed your muscles the protein they crave. That means not just meeting, but exceeding the recommended protein minimums.
Protein is made up of essential amino acids. These essential amino acids activate muscle protein synthesis and the building of new muscle tissue. The body’s essential amino acid needs increase with age because older muscle is less responsive to muscle-building signals. It takes the right type and amount of protein to get muscle protein synthesis going.
Complete proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids needed to build and maintain muscles, such as fish and lean meats. High-quality, lean protein foods include:
- Red meat
- Dairy products
- Soy products
- Hemp seeds
- Ezekiel bread
- Peanut butter
- Chia seeds
But if research has shown us anything it’s that older people are lacking in protein intake. In fact, more than 33% of older adults are not getting enough protein to maintain muscle health or a healthy weight, or prevent illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
That’s where supplementation with essential amino acids comes in handy. Essential amino acids, especially when taken after resistance exercise, have been proven to help build and maintain muscle mass in older adults, including older women. They also provide a low-calorie alternative to other protein supplements such as whey protein, which can worsen loss of appetite and impair overall nutritional intake.
You can exceed your protein requirements and maintain lean muscle mass when you take a complete essential amino acid supplement formulated with a high concentration of leucine. Leucine is the magic bullet that activates muscle protein synthesis in aging muscle.
That’s why leucine takes the lead in our Active Aging Essential Amino Acid Supplement called Life. Studies show that just 3 grams of Life is enough to stimulate the muscle-building mechanisms of the body (1). And with every scoop, you’re getting double that amount!
You can learn more about our Active Aging Protein Supplement here.
Fiber for Regularity and Disease Prevention
The importance of fiber in nutrition for older adults cannot be underestimated. Fiber helps to lower cholesterol levels, control blood sugar levels, support the digestive system and prevent constipation, and protect against cancers such as colorectal cancer.
Keep your fiber intake high with the following food choices:
- Brussels sprouts
- Turnip greens
- Brown rice
- Kidney beans
- Black beans
- Chia seeds
Nutrition for Older Adults Healthy Eating Guide
If you’ve skimmed the list of nutrient-rich foods above, you’ve probably noticed a theme. They have little to no trans fats, they have fewer calories than processed and packaged foods, and they’re made up of essential macronutrients (protein, fats, carbs) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). These nutrients help support your overall well-being by promoting weight loss and reducing your risk factors for chronic conditions.
Now you can put together healthy meals that support maximal nutrition for older adults. Eat healthy and improve your quality of life!