Nutritional needs as you age

With increasing age, the body is less efficient in absorbing and using some nutrients; osteoporosis and other medical conditions common among older people also change nutritional needs. Consequently, an older person is likely to need extra amounts of these essential nutrients.

Nutritional needs as you age

7 important nutrients

  1. Calcium to prevent osteoporosis and maintain healthy bones.
  2. Vitamin D, which the body needs in order to absorb the calcium.
  3. Vitamin B12 to build red blood cells and maintain healthy nerves.
  4. Zinc to help compensate for lowered immunity due to aging.
  5. Potassium, especially in the presence of high blood pressure or the use of diuretic drugs.
  6. Folic acid, a B vitamin, which the body uses to make DNA and red blood cells, may also help to lower blood levels of homocysteine, a compound in the blood that has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
  7. Fibre to prevent constipation.

Supplements may be needed

A recent study suggests that seniors may face the risk of vitamin deficiencies, even if they are eating well.

  • Some doctors recommend a daily vitamin and mineral supplement to ensure that an older person takes in 100 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowances.
  • However, a multivitamin cannot take the place of healthy food because foods contain additional important components such as fibre, plant chemicals and essential fatty acids.
  • Also, high-dose supplements should be avoided unless ­recommended by a physician or dietitian, as they can lead to nutritional imbalances. For example, zinc supplements can interfere with the body's use of folic acid; iron can inhibit proper calcium and zinc absorption.

Drink lots of water every day

Consume six to eight glasses each day.

  • Water is an essential nutrient just like ­vitamins and minerals because your body cannot make enough of it to meet your daily requirements.
  • It helps regulate body temperature, transports nutrients to your body's cell and helps remove waste.
  • Because sensitivity to thirst diminishes with age, older adults are susceptible to dehydration, which can cause confusion, fatigue, headaches and more.

A word of caution

  • If you live in a northern climate (most of Canada, as well as parts of Europe), your body may be seriously lacking in vitamin D, essential for the absorption of calcium. The majority of this vitamin is made in our skin upon exposure to sunlight. Not only do northern climates receive little sun in winter, but summer's bugs, poor air quality and our desire to protect our skin against the sun's harmful rays lead many to shun it during summer months, too.
  • Vitamin D is important in helping calcium to shore up bones to protect seniors against fractures. Seniors need between 400 IU and 600 IU of vitamin D daily. One regular glass (250 millilitres/one cup) of milk contains 100 IU, as does 250 millilitres (one cup) of fortifed soy or rice beverage as well as some fortified orange juices.

As you age, your nutritional needs change and healthy living means increasing your intake of several essential nutrients. Create a healthy diet with this guide and remember to contact your doctor before making any major changes.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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