How Your Nutritional Needs Change as You Age

Eating healthy†becomes especially important as you age. Thatís because aging is linked to a variety of changes, including nutrient deficiencies and poor health outcomes.

Luckily, there are things you can do to help prevent deficiencies and other age-related changes. For example, eating nutrient-rich foods and taking the appropriate supplements can help keep you healthy as you age.

This article explains how your nutritional needs change as you age, including how to address them.

How Does Aging Affect Your Nutritional Needs?

Aging is linked to a variety of changes in the body, including muscle loss, thinner skin and less stomach acid. Some of these changes can make you prone to nutrient deficiencies, while others can affect your senses and quality of life.

For example, studies have estimated that 20% of elderly people have atrophic gastritis, a condition in which chronic inflammation has damaged the cells that produce stomach acid.

Low stomach acid can affect the absorption of nutrients, such as vitamin B12, calcium, iron and magnesium.

Another challenge of aging is a reduced need for calories. Unfortunately, this creates a nutritional dilemma. Older adults need to get just as much, if not more, of some nutrients, all while eating fewer calories.

Fortunately, eating a variety of whole foods and taking a supplement can help you meet your nutrient needs.

Another issue people may experience as they age is a reduction in their bodyís ability to recognize vital senses like hunger and thirst. This could make you prone to dehydration and accidental weight loss. And the older you get, the harsher these consequences may be.

Needing Fewer Calories, but More Nutrients

A person’s†daily calorie needs†depend on their height, weight, muscle mass, activity level and several other factors. Older adults may need fewer calories to maintain their weight, since they tend to move and exercise less and carry less muscle (5).

If you continue to eat the same number of calories per day as you did when you were younger, you could easily gain extra fat, especially around the belly area.

This is especially true in postmenopausal women, as the decline in estrogen levels seen during this time may promote belly fat storage.

However, even though older adults need fewer calories, they need just as high or even higher levels of some nutrients, compared to younger people.

This makes it very important for older people to eat a variety of whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats. These healthy staples can help you fight nutrient deficiencies, without expanding your waistline.

Nutrients that become especially important as you age include protein, vitamin D, calcium and vitamin B12.

You Can Benefit From More Protein

Itís common to lose muscle and strength as you age. In fact, the average adult loses 3Ė8% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. This loss of muscle mass and strength is known as sarcopenia. Itís a major cause of weakness, fractures and poor health among the elderly.

Eating more protein could help your body†maintain muscle and fight sarcopenia. One study followed 2,066 elderly people over three years. It found those who ate the most protein daily lost 40% less muscle mass than people who ate the least.

Also, a review of 20 recent studies in elderly people found that eating more protein or taking protein supplements may slow the rate of muscle loss, increase muscle mass and help build more muscle.

Furthermore, combining a protein-rich diet with resistance exercise seems to be the most effective way to fight sarcopenia.

You can find many simple ways to increase your protein intake†here.

You May Benefit From More Fiber

Constipation is a common health problem among the elderly. Itís especially common in people over 65, and itís two to three times more common in women. Thatís because people at this age tend to move less and be more likely to take medications that have constipation as a side effect.

Eating fiber may†help relieve constipation. It passes through the gut undigested, helping form stool and promote regular bowel movements.

In an analysis of five studies, scientists found that dietary fiber helped stimulate bowel movements in people with constipation. Additionally, a high-fiber diet may prevent diverticular disease, a condition in which small pouches form along the colon wall and become infected or inflamed. This condition is especially common among the elderly.

Diverticular disease is often viewed as a disease of the Western diet. Itís incredibly common, affecting up to 50% of people over age 50 in Western countries.

Conversely, diverticular disease is almost absent in populations with higher fiber intakes. For example, in Japan and Africa, diverticular disease affects less than 0.2% of people.

You can find a few ways to increase your fiber intake†here.

You Need More Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium and vitamin D are two of the most important nutrients for bone health.†Calcium†helps build and maintain healthy bones, while†vitamin D†helps the body absorb calcium.

Unfortunately, older adults tend to absorb less calcium from their diets. Human and animal studies have found that the gut tends to absorb less calcium with age (1,†2,†3,†4).

However, the reduction in calcium absorption is likely caused by a vitamin D deficiency, since aging can make the body less efficient at producing it (5,†6). Your body can make vitamin D from the cholesterol in your skin when it is exposed to sunlight. However, aging can make the skin thinner, which reduces its ability to make vitamin D (7,†8).

Together, these changes could prevent you from getting enough calcium and vitamin D, promoting bone loss and increasing your risk of fractures.

To counter agingís effects on your vitamin D and calcium levels, itís necessary to consume more calcium and vitamin D through foods and supplements.

A variety of foods contain calcium, including dairy products and dark green, leafy vegetables. You can find other great sources of calcium†here.

Meanwhile, vitamin D is found in a variety of fish, such as salmon and herring. You can find other great sources of vitamin D†here.

Older people can also benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement like†cod liver oil.

You May Need More Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin also known as cobalamin.

Itís essential for making red blood cells and maintaining healthy brain function.

Unfortunately, studies estimate that 10Ė30% of people over age 50 have a reduced ability to absorb vitamin B12 from their diet.

Over time, this could cause a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Vitamin B12 in the diet is bound to proteins in the food you eat. Before your body can use it, stomach acid must help it separate from these food proteins.

Older people are more likely to have conditions that reduce stomach acid production, leading to less vitamin B12 absorption from foods. Atrophic gastritis is one condition that can cause this.

Additionally, older people who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet are less likely to eat rich sources of vitamin B12, since itís more abundant in animal foods such as eggs, fish, meat and dairy (9,†10).

For this reason, older people can benefit from taking a†vitamin B12 supplement†or consuming foods fortified with vitamin B12.

These fortified foods contain crystalline vitamin B12, which is not bound to food proteins. So people who produce less than the normal amount of stomach acid can still absorb it.

Other Nutrients That May Help You as You Age

Several other nutrients may benefit you as you age, including:

  • Potassium:†A higher potassium intake is associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure, kidney stones, osteoporosis and heart disease, all of which are more common among the elderly (11,†12, 13).
  • Omega-3 fatty acids:†Heart disease is the leading cause of death among the elderly. Studies have shown that†omega-3 fatty acids†can lower heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and triglycerides (14,†15).
  • Magnesium:†Magnesium is an important mineral in the body. Unfortunately, elderly people are at risk of deficiency because of poor intake, medication use and age-related changes in gut function (16,†17).
  • Iron:†Deficiency is common in elderly people. This may cause anemia, a condition in which the blood does not supply enough oxygen to the body.

Most of these nutrients can be obtained from a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats.

However, people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet could benefit from taking an iron or†omega-3 supplement.

Although iron is found in a variety of vegetables,†plant sources of iron†are not absorbed as well as meat sources of iron. Omega-3 fats are mostly found in fish.

You Are More Prone to Dehydration

Water makes up about 60% of your body. Itís important to stay hydrated at any age, since your body constantly loses water, mainly through sweat and urine.

Additionally, aging can make you prone to dehydration. Your body detects thirst through receptors found in the brain and throughout the body.

However, as you age, these receptors may become less sensitive to water changes, making it harder for them to detect thirst. Additionally, your kidneys help your body conserve water, but they tend to lose function as you age.

Unfortunately, dehydration comes with harsh consequences for older people. Long-term dehydration can reduce the fluid in your cells, reducing your ability to absorb medicine, worsening medical conditions and increasing fatigue.

Thatís why itís important to make a conscious effort to†drink enough water daily.

If you find drinking water a challenge, try having one to two glasses of water with each meal. Otherwise, try carrying a water bottle as you go about your day.

You May Struggle to Eat Enough Food

Another troubling concern for elderly people is decreased appetite.

If this issue isnít addressed, it can lead to unintended weight loss and nutritional deficiencies. A loss of appetite is also linked to poor health and a higher risk of death.

Factors that could cause older adults to have a poor appetite include changes in hormones, taste and smell, as well as changes in life circumstances.

Studies have found that older people tend to have lower levels of hunger hormones and higher levels of fullness hormones, which means they could get hungry less often and feel fuller more quickly (18,†19,†20,†21).

In a small study with 11 elderly people and 11 young adults, researchers found that elderly participants had significantly lower levels of the hunger hormone†ghrelin†before a meal.

Additionally, several studies have found that elderly people have higher levels of the fullness hormones cholecystokinin and leptin (22,†23,†24).

Aging can also affect your sense of smell and taste, making foods seem less appealing. Other factors that may cause poor appetite include tooth loss, loneliness, underlying illness and medications that can decrease appetite.

If you find it difficult to eat large meals, try dividing your meals into smaller portions and have them every few hours.

Otherwise, try to establish a habit of eating healthy snacks like almonds, yogurt and boiled eggs, which provide lots of nutrients and a good number of calories.

The Bottom Line

  • Aging is linked to changes that can make you prone to deficiencies in calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, magnesium and several other important nutrients.
  • It may also reduce your ability to recognize sensations like hunger and thirst.
  • Luckily, you can take actions to prevent these deficiencies.
  • Make a conscious effort to stay on top of your water and food intake, eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods and consider taking a supplement.
  • All these actions can help you fight deficiencies and stay healthy as you get older.

Post originally appeared on Healthline

64 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y1 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y1 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J1 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J1 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Marie W
Marie W5 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill9 months ago

thanks

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ANA MARIJA R
ANA MARIJA R11 months ago

Every person is individual... :) Thank you!

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIE11 months ago

Thank you

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heather g
heather g11 months ago

Thanks, now I feel 15 years younger. Considering all these downturns as one "gets older", I haven't suffered from them.

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Danuta W
Danuta W11 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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