As I get older I eat much less and I wonder if I am getting all the required nutrients that I need. Could you give me suggestions on how to get the most for what I eat or does it matter? I work with senior citizens and this is a common problem.

What a great question! Our nutrient needs certainly change as we enter different phases in life. Younger adults typically require more calories to keep up with their rapidly growing bodies, while older adults do not tend to need as many. “You need fewer calories every decade”, says Connie Bales, PhD, RD, associate director of the Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center at Durham VA Medical Center. “We move around less, we have less muscle, and our metabolic rate goes down.” Many of my patients tell me they automatically gained weight when they hit their 40’s and 50’s because they were still consuming as much food as they did when they were in their 20’s. This weight gain can be dangerous because many times fat begins to accumulate around the abdominal area, increasing one’s risk of heart disease and cancer. So, my first recommendation as one ages is to try to stay at a healthy weight by consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables and get plenty of physical activity.

Older adults have increased needs for a variety of other nutrients including: vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and fiber. As we age we don’t produce as much stomach acid. Our bodies require adequate amounts of stomach acid to properly absorb vitamin B12. That is why foods high in B12 (lean meat, fish, seafood, and fortified foods) need to be a staple in an older adult’s diet. Vitamin D is other important nutrient important for bone health. Older adults typically do not get as much sunlight, and sunlight helps increase absorption of vitamin D. In addition, older folks have a decreased capacity to synthesize vitamin D in the skin even when exposure to sunlight is plentiful. Likewise calcium is also required for optimal bone health. Frequently the diets of older adults is typically low in foods that are high in calcium and vitamin D. Therefore one should aim for at least 3 servings of low-fat dairy (low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified foods) each day. As we age, potassium is another important nutrient to include in the diet. Increasing potassium intake along with decreasing sodium (salt) may lower risk of high blood pressure. Potassium is predominantly found in fruits and vegetables (tomatoes, bananas, potatoes, oranges etc). Finally we get to…Fiber! Dietary fiber is so essential across the entire lifespan, but it is especially important in older adulthood! Fiber can help lower blood sugar levels, which is helpful in managing diabetes. Dietary fiber can help regulate one’s bowels and can help prevent against heart disease. The best way to get your fiber is to fill up on colorful fruits and vegetables and fill your plate with whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat spaghetti, beans, etc).

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