Adequate nutrition is important at any stage of life, but it is especially important as you get older. As we age, the number of calories we require goes down, meaning that the calories we do take in must be much more nutritious than when we are younger, and this can be a challenge. Our sense of taste can become more blunted as we get older, dimishing our appetites and our some foods can become more difficult to chew and digest as well.
What’s more, our body is less efficient at processing nutrients meaning it takes more of a nutrient to get the necessary amount our bodies require. Some of these nutrients are essential for us as we grow older and these 7 nutrients are among the most important.
Fortunately, many of the most nutritious foods often contain several different nutrients that your body needs, so with proper planning and consulting with your doctor, getting the daily requirement of essential nutrients is easier than you might imagine.
Essential Nutrients for Seniors
B12 is an essential nutrient for creating red blood cells, plays an important role in creating DNA, and for maintaining a healthy nervous system. Lots of food contain vitamin B12, but we become much less able to absorb it as we age, meaning that we need to eat foods that are especially packed with B12 once we’re older.
Supplements can be helpful, but our bodies are more likely to absorb B12 from the food that we eat rather than through supplements, so its important to eat foods high in B12, including fish, poultry, meat, milk, milk products, and eggs. Make sure to speak with your doctor about where to properly get your vitamin B12, as some foods might be good sources of B12, but may not be appropriate for your diet.
Folic acid is one of the more well known B vitamins because of its importance for pregnant women in order to prevent certain birth defects as well as the links between folic acid deficiency and anemia. This essential vitamin is important enough that a lot of breakfast cereals are fortified with folate as a way to help increase folic acid consumption.
For older people though, this may not be enough on its own and they should seek out folic acid rich foods to ensure they are getting enough of this essential nutrient. The best sources of folic acid are fruits and vegetables, so snacking and these throughout the day can help maintain a healthy folic acid level.
Probably the most well known mineral deficiency that older Americans are told to watch for is calcium deficiency, especially for older women. The role calcium plays in bone health is especially important, so maintaining a healthy level of calcium can help fortify bone density, which is important for preventing bone fractures as a result of falls or other injuries.
The best way to maintain a healthy level of calcium is through foods and drinks, as opposed to supplements, so make sure to consume at least three servings of low-fat milk and other dairy products. Calcium rich juices are also a good substitute if dairy is an issue, and certain green vegetables such as kale and broccoli are also packed with calcium along with other essential vitamins.
Vitamin D is another important nutrient for maintaining bone health, as it helps the body absorb calcium and helps maintain bone density and helps prevent osteoporosis. It is also essential to protecting against certain chronic diseases, such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and other autoimmune diseases.
When we get older, vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to an increased risk of falls.
Shoring up vitamin D levels isn’t difficult, as many foods are fortified with it, including milk, cereals, yogurts, and juices, as well as salmon, tuna, and eggs. Since vitamin D is produced by our skin when it is exposed to sunlight, as we age this process becomes less efficient, so vitamin supplements may be required as well.
Another major nutrient for bone health is potassium, which is also essential for proper cell function. It has been shown to reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of developing kidney stones. The recommended amount of potassium is 4,700 mg/day, which many older Americans don’t come close to getting.
The best sources for potassium are fruits and vegetables, with bananas, prunes, plums, and potatoes with the skins left being especially rich in the mineral. Including fruits and vegetables with every meal should get you to the amount of potassium you need, but do not take too much. Too much potassium can be as dangerous as too little, so be sure to speak with your doctor to find the right balance.
Magnesium is one of the most essential minerals your body needs, as it plays a role in literally hundreds of bodily functions. Some of the most import are keeping your immune system healthy, as well as you heart, your bones, and proper digestive function. You should speak with your doctor about your magnesium levels as many of the medications that older people need to take can inhibit magnesium absorption by the body.
To get the proper amount of magnesium, it is crucial to avoid processed foods, food processing can reduce the natural magnesium level of the food. Unprocessed, whole foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds, and nuts are all packed with magnesium.
It might seem counter-intuitive given the modern thinking around fats, but not all fats are bad for you in the proper proportion. Omega-3 fats are unsaturated fats that are primarily found in fish and have been shown to have a number of health benefits, especially as we get older, including reducing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and slowing age-related macular degeneration.
The best way to get enough of these important nutrients is to have at least two servings of fish per week. Salmon, tuna, and mackerel are particularly high in Omega-3 fats, while some vegetables like soybeans can also provide the nutrient.
Supplements are also available, but as with every nutrient on this list, make sure to speak with your doctor about the best way for you to receive your daily requirements before taking any supplements.
If you need help preparing meals or coming up with meal plans for you or a loved one in need, contact us and let us know. We’ll be happy to work with you and your doctor to ensure your diet provides all the vital nutrients you need.