It’s common knowledge that watching what you eat and staying active are essential to a healthy lifestyle. However, as we age, things just aren’t that simple. Our nutritional needs evolve. Parts of the aging process itself can make it harder for older adults to get a well-rounded diet. But the saying “you are what you eat” is cliché for good reason. Your diet plays a large part in your overall health, from immune function and mental health to strong bones and sharp eyes. That means women and men over 50 should prioritize eating a healthy diet suited to their specific needs—and be familiar with what those needs are.
Why Do Older Adults Struggle to Get Adequate Nutrition?
- A waning appetite is just part of getting older. Changes in your sense of smell and taste also factor into potentially eating less as you age. While the amount of calories older people need is bound to be less than in middle age, be sure you’re getting enough. The United States Department of Agriculture has a handy MyPlate Checklist Calculator to help you determine how many calories to shoot for each day. People 70 or older actually need to eat more for their bodies to extract the same amount of nutrients as their younger counterparts.
- Some senior adults experience dental health problems or find that swallowing becomes more difficult. After the age of 65, many Americans end up skipping the dentist because most dental care isn’t covered by Original Medicare. It only makes sense that these mouth-centered issues would result in reduced food intake.
- The changes in mobility that often go along with aging can make preparing healthy food difficult. Getting to the grocery store, preparing a meal, and even opening food packaging can begin to present a challenge. In a similar vein, less-active lifestyles mean that metabolism slows down, slowing hunger along with it.
With these factors in mind, it’s clear that keeping an eye on diet is especially important for older adults. To make sure you get adequate nutrition, it’s important to know exactly where the goalposts are.
What’s Missing From Your Day-to-Day Nutritional Intake?
If you followed the link in our first bullet point, you’ve already determined how many calories you should aim for each day. But a well-rounded diet comes down to more than just calories. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics points out that “a healthy eating plan emphasizes fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy; includes lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, salt (sodium), and added sugars.” In addition to this broad schematic for eating well, mature adults should keep target figures in mind for a few vital nutrients that are especially important for their age group.
- Calcium: The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends women over 50 and men over 70 aim for 1,200 mg of calcium daily. Men 70 and younger need 1,000 daily mg.
- Vitamin D: People older than 50 should aim for 800 to 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. This quota can be reached by combining food, supplements, and sunlight.
- Vitamin B12: The recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms. The Mayo Clinic urges older adults to meet this goal with fortified food or supplements. That’s because certain health conditions, or aging itself, can make it harder for your body to extract vitamin B12 from food.
- Fiber: Men and women differ in their fiber needs because men typically need a higher caloric intake. Men 50 and older should try to get 30 grams of fiber a day, whereas women 50 and up should aim for 21 grams daily.
- Potassium: Needed amounts differ again between men and women. Men have a recommended daily dose of 3,800 mg, and women have a recommended daily dose of 2,800 mg.
What’s the Best Way to Get My Daily Nutrition?
All these figures can make getting a well-rounded diet seem more complicated than it is. Optimizing your nutrition intake does not have to be intimidating. Pick a few changes at a time, and you’ll find it’s easy to incorporate these tweaks into your daily routine.
- Make small adjustments to help you enjoy your food and beverages while still getting the nutrients you need. Don’t try to change everything at once.
- Cut down on salt by using spices and herbs as a flavorful substitute. When choosing packaged foods, select low-sodium versions whenever they’re available.
- Load up your meals and snacks with plenty of fruits and vegetables. If you struggle with slicing or chopping your produce, take advantage of specials on precut versions.
- If a medication you’re taking interferes with your appetite or eating habits, talk to your doctor about what other options may be available.
- Switch out sugary sodas or juice for more nutritious beverage choices. Water is always a good bet. The USDA recommends older adults drink 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk per day.
Incorporating more nutrients into your diet could be a chance to mix up things in your kitchen and try something new. Recipes have come a long way since the days of vintage recipe books, and we can all be thankful that we have more options than we used to for a nutritious meal. Grab an unfamiliar ingredient at the farmer’s market, try a new cuisine, or switch favorite recipes with a friend to shake up your usual food routine.
But Wait, There’s More!
A healthy diet is a great step toward a nutritious lifestyle, but it is also important to fit exercise into your routine if you can. Be sure to check out some of our fitness-focused articles for more tips and tricks on staying fit at any age.