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Proactive Health: How Daily Nutritional Needs Change with Age

Written by tyemedical on November 11, 2019

Have you ever said, “I’m not as young I used to be”? Well, even if you haven’t said it, the thought has likely popped into your mind. Either way, it’s a true statement. We’re all getting older. None of us are as young as we used to be! And while you adjust to the changes life throws your way, remember to also consider changes in your daily nutritional needs.

If you want to optimize your health and enjoy the years ahead, you’ll need to make adjustments concerning how you fuel and care for your body. We’re here to provide some insight into what these changes are and how you can meet you daily nutritional needs as a senior adult.

Why Are Your Nutritional Needs Are Different Now?

The bottom line is that age slows us down. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. We tend to stop and smell the roses more often and sail along at a speed more conducive to enjoying life instead of racing through it. Nevertheless, you’ll experience age-related physical changes, and here’s why:

Less Activity Means Less Muscle Mass

Since you’re not quite as active as you were, your body’s overall muscle mass declines. If you don’t use it, you lose it, so to speak. But it’s perfectly natural. And we’ll discuss some things you can do to maintain a healthy amount of muscle and tone. But the overall result is that your body requires fewer calories than in years past.

More Prone to Nutrient Deficiencies

Bodily systems aren’t working at optimum levels as we age, which means they’re just not as efficient. Many seniors become deficient in specific nutrients, even if they never experienced these deficiencies before. This is largely due to a decrease in stomach acid, which slows or blocks the absorption of nutrients. Medication also play a role in slowing nutrient absorption. Nutrients typically affected by low stomach acid:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium

You can address the deficiencies and meet daily nutritional needs with simple changes to your diet and the right supplements. (More on that later.)

Difficulty Recognizing Hunger or Thirst

As we age, our bodies have an increasingly difficult time indicating hunger and thirst. While some seniors might continue eating according to their youthful appetites, others might not even realize they need to eat. This leads to the opposite problem – too much weight loss. However for many seniors, a difficulty recognizing thirst is the biggest problem, because it leads to dehydration.

Now that you understand why your daily nutritional needs have changed, let’s take a look at how you can best meet those needs and promote good health.

Watch Your Calorie Intake

As you age, your body needs fewer calories, which means that if you don’t want to gain weight, you’ll need to reduce your calorie intake. The unfortunate news is that when we do gain weight as older adults, we tend to pack it on around the midsection, especially around the belly.  We all know how stubborn that belly fat can be, so it’s best to be proactive.

You’re probably thinking, “What about me?” Your daily calorie needs depend upon not only your age, but also your height, weight, muscle mass, activity level, and some other factors. The National Institute on Aging offers some guidelines for determining your calorie needs according to your activity level:

Calorie Needs for Women Over Age 50

Activity Level Daily Calorie Requirement
Not physically active About 1,600 calories/day
Somewhat active About 1,800 calories/day
Active lifestyle About 2,000-2,200 calories/day

Calorie Needs for Men Over Age 50

Activity Level Daily Calorie Requirement
Not physically active About 2,000 calories/day
Somewhat active About 2,200–2,400 calories/day
Active lifestyle About 2,400-2,800 calories/day

 

You can approach calorie counting in one of two ways. You can simply eat a little less at every meal and go easier on the desserts, or you can try counting your calories. It’s all about what works best for you. If you choose to count calories, you can purchase a calorie counter book, and they even make them in larger print. If you have a smart phone, you can download free calorie counting apps like Fitbit (doesn’t require a Fitbit fitness tracker) or MyFitnessPal.

Eat More Protein

You can fight muscle loss due to aging by eating more protein and incorporating resistance training. Increasing your protein intake helps you build and maintain muscle mass, which prevents weakness and potential fractures. Research has shown that participating senior adults who had a high daily protein diet lost 40% less muscle mass than those who had a low-protein diet. That’s a huge difference!

So, how much protein do you need? The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. To calculate your protein needs, simply multiply your body weight in pounds by 0.36 or try this online protein calculator. (It also provides other nutritional values.)

The best sources of protein are lean meats, fish, low-fat dairy products, nuts, beans, and if necessary, supplemental beverages like Ensure and Boost. It’s best to get your protein from your diet rather than supplements, but if your appetite is poor, consider a supplemental protein shake help meet your daily nutritional needs.

Get the Fiber You Need

We hear much about fiber these days, and there are many different supplements available to help you meet your daily nutritional needs. As mentioned previously, we tend to become less active over time, and we also begin taking more medications as we get older. These factors often lead to a common problem in senior adults – constipation, especially if you’re over age 65.

According to research, fiber helps with constipation, because it stimulates bowel movements. It also helps prevent diverticular disease, lowers cholesterol levels, and regulates blood sugar. So, if you want to maintain a healthy digestive system and prevent illness, health.gov recommends women over age 50 eat 22.4 grams of fiber daily and men over age 50 eat 28 grams of fiber daily.

If you need to increase your fiber intake, consider adding foods like these to your diet:

  • Nuts
  • Wholegrain cereal
  • Wholegrain bread and pasta
  • Brown rice, quinoa, or other grains
  • Fruits and Vegetables

If you have difficulty adding these to your diet, consider a supplement like Metamucil.

Stay Hydrated

You’ll find a complicated medical explanation for why older adults are often slower to recognize thirst and then hydrate. The diminished thirst sensation means you may need to drink even if you don’t feel thirsty. This is especially true if you’re getting your recommended dose of daily fiber. Fiber absorbs lots of water, but when you’re getting enough of both, your system runs optimally.

Remember that dehydration affects your entire body, so be sure to get your 8 (8 oz) glasses of water each day.

Some symptoms of dehydration:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Constipation
  • Low blood pressure

Not sure how much you’re drinking? Fill a half gallon jug or pitcher with water, and if it’s gone by the end of the day, you’ll know you’ve hit your goal. You can also use a hydration app. Many of the calorie tracking apps also let you track water.

 

Include Important Vitamins and Supplements

As mentioned previously, our bodies have greater difficulty absorbing nutrients as we age, which often leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Eating more foods rich in these nutrients is a good step forward, but many seniors can’t eat enough in one day to get what they need.

Many people can benefit from dietary supplements that help them meet their daily nutritional needs. Check with your doctor before beginning any supplements, especially if you take prescription medications.

The following nutrient deficiencies have been linked to aging, and you’ll want to consider incorporating more of these into your diet and/or using supplements:

Calcium and Vitamin D

These are two of the most important nutrients for bone health. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, and together they work to strengthen bones and prevent fractures. Without vitamin D, you’ll experience a reduction in calcium absorption even if you’re consuming an appropriate amount of calcium.

How much do you need?  

According to National Academy of Sciences, men and women over age 50 require1200 mg of calcium daily.

If you take a supplement, choose one with vitamin D included.

You’ll find calcium in foods like:

  • Dairy products
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Calcium fortified fruits and vegetables (soy products, cereal, fruit juices, milk substitutes)

You can get your vitamin D from fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil.

Just be sure you don’t overdo it with calcium, since too much calcium is known to increase your risk of kidney stones. Those who have chronic kidney disease should talk with their doctor before starting a calcium supplement.

Vitamin B12

You’ve probably heard about the boost of energy we get from B12. It’s vital for producing red blood cells and maintaining healthy brain function. Are you getting enough to meet your daily nutritional needs?

How much do you need?

Adults over age 50 have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12, and the nutrient is already difficult to absorb from supplements.  Therefore, seniors should take a supplement with a much larger dosage in order to get what they need. For example, researchers have found that the average body absorbs only 10 mcg of a 500 mcg B12 supplement.

Therefore, adults over age 50 should supplement with 500 mcg of vitamin B12 daily. Studies have shown success this to be enough for notably improving B12 levels in senior adults.

In addition, try adding more of these vitamin B12 rich foods to your diet:

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Fortified cereals

Consider a vitamin B12 supplement, especially if you have a small appetite.

Potassium

When you hear the word potassium, you probably think of bananas, a common fruit rich in this nutrient. But potassium is found in many foods and helps maintain normal fluid levels in your body.

It also combats health conditions that become more common as we age:

  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney stones
  • Osteoporosis
  • Heart disease

Most people don’t need to take a potassium supplement since it’s so plentiful in everyday foods like:

  • Potatoes
  • Beans
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Avocado
  • Oranges
  • Tomatoes
  • Dairy
  • Chicken
  • Salmon
  • Cashews
  • Almonds

Be sure you’re eating adequate amounts of these foods, but don’t overdo it! Too much potassium can lead to toxicity.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

If you want to lower your blood pressure or triglycerides, consider taking an Omega-3 supplement. Studies show that it lowers your heart disease risk factors. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it’s recommended you opt for a supplement, since this nutrient is largely found in seafood. Omega-3 supplements can help you meet your daily nutritional needs even if you don’t eat much fish.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, choose a supplement that has about 1 gram of Omega-3 fish oil per dose and includes EPA and DHA.

Magnesium

Generally, as we age, our bodies become more deficient in magnesium, which is an important mineral. It’s involved in over 300 chemical reactions in the body – which means it’s important for maintaining healthy magnesium levels.

Your doctor can test your magnesium levels and recommend a supplement if necessary. You can also consider supplements like Natural Calm powder. The product instructions tell you how to know you’ve found the right dosage for your body.

Iron

It’s not uncommon for iron levels to drop with age, and some senior adults develop a form of anemia. Be sure to have your doctor check your iron levels and recommend a supplement with a dosage suitable for your daily nutritional needs.

Proper iron levels ensure your body has enough red blood cells and hemoglobin to carry oxygen throughout your body. It’s important to keep a check on this!

With a little awareness, healthier food choices, and the right supplements, you can meet your daily nutritional and perhaps have more energy to enjoy life!

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