Key Nutrients for Seniors, Introduction
Key Nutrients for Seniors. Let’s talk about senior nutrition. Hence, every nutrient is essential and vital for health. However, there are certain nutrients that seniors need more of. Furthermore, these key nutrients are especially important in an ageing body.
This article will cover the 7 key nutrients for senior nutrition, including:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B-6
- Vitamin B-12
These are all nutrients that seniors frequently need more of. But keep in mind every senior is different. However, they may have different medical conditions, be on different medications. And have different preferences in the foods they like to eat. So then, let’s look at these essential nutrients.
Vitamin D and Seniors
Key Nutrients for Seniors. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin involved in bone health, muscle health, immunity, and cognition. Famously known as the “sunshine” vitamin- this is the only vitamin that our bodies can create when exposed to the sun.
However, as we age, our skin cannot make vitamin D as efficiently as it did when we were younger. So then, seniors are also more likely to spend more time indoors. And sunshine through a window doesn’t quite cut it; we can’t absorb vitamin D when it’s coming through a window.
Other things can impact the absorption of vitamin D from the sun, including having a darker skin complexion. Consequently, wearing sunblock or protective clothing, or even how far you live from the equator. So, vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, but often times getting a little sunshine isn’t enough.
Vitamin D Needs
The RDA for vitamin D is 800 IU for adults over 70 years. But for everyone else (ages 1-70), the RDA is 600 IU. However, older adults over 70 years need even more vitamin D than younger adults. But they are less likely to get their vitamin D from the sun. So then, they must count on food sources for their vitamin D.
Food Sources of Vitamin D
- Fish liver oil
- Fortified milk or juice
- Eggs (the yolk only)
- Fortified dairy products
- Fortified plant-based milk
- Fortified cereals
Seniors who are unable to get vitamin D through food or sunlight may need to take a vitamin D3 supplement. Their healthcare provider can order lab work to determine if supplementation is needed.
Calcium and Seniors
Key Nutrients for Seniors. Calcium and vitamin D go hand-in-hand. Both are so important for bone health. Thus, calcium is a mineral involved in bone health, muscle health, nerve transmission, and hormone secretion. It’s important to note that foods high in “oxalic acid” decrease the absorption of calcium.
Foods high in oxalic acid include spinach, collard greens, sweet potatoes, and beans. Therefore, these foods actually have some decent calcium, but because oxalic acid is present, the calcium isn’t well absorbed. So, these are foods we wouldn’t consider to be good sources of calcium.
If an older adult doesn’t get enough calcium, it can cause weak bones and fractures. Besides, too much calcium can cause kidney damage or kidney stones.
The RDA for calcium is 1,200 mg for men over 70 years old and women 51+ years old. For younger adults of both genders, the RDA is 1,000 mg. Older adults need more calcium, but the reality is most older adults don’t get enough calcium in their diets.
Food Sources of Calcium
- Fortified beverages
- Turnip greens
- Bok choi
For older adults with lactose intolerance (this means they can’t break down the sugar found in milk). Thus, getting enough calcium can be a challenge. They may be able to consume dairy in very small amounts at a time. By the way, they also may be able to tolerate dairy when taking a lactase enzyme supplement.
However, those who do not consume dairy at all should be mindful of consuming plant-based foods high in calcium. And other calcium-fortified food and beverages (e.g., fortified cereal, milk alternatives, and orange juice).
Vitamin B-6 and Seniors
Key Nutrients for Seniors. Vitamin B-6 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a role in metabolism and immunity, And is involved in over 100 different enzyme reactions in the body. Also, Vitamin B-6 is very important for seniors. However, Vitamin B-6 deficiency is rare. But 24-31% of people are at risk for a vitamin B-6 deficiency.
The good news is that vitamin B-6 is found in a wide variety of different foods. So then, eating a balanced diet with a wide variety of foods can help seniors meet their vitamin B-6 needs.
Vitamin B-6 Needs
If an older adult doesn’t get enough vitamin B-6. Here, it can cause anaemia, cracks in the corners of their mouth, depression, or poor immunity. Getting too much is pretty rare. However, this typically occurs from over-supplementation.
The RDA for adults ages 51-70 years old is 1.3 mg daily. Men over 70 years old need 1.7 mg daily. Women over 70 years old need 1.5 mg daily. Vitamin B-6 needs to increase with age.
Food Sources of Vitamin B-6
- Beef liver
- Chicken breast
- Cottage cheese
Vitamin B-12 and Seniors
Key Nutrients for Seniors. Vitamin B-12 is a water-soluble vitamin involved in DNA creation, red blood cell formation, and nerve function. It can also help prevent a type of anaemia that can make people feel tired and weak.
The RDA for vitamin B-12 is not higher for seniors. It’s the same for younger and older adults. But, absorption of vitamin B-12 may decrease with age. Thus, approximately 10-30% of older adults cannot absorb vitamin B-12 through food sources.
Therefore, it is recommended that older adults get at least half of their vitamin B-12 through fortified foods or supplements. Note: Fortified foods do not “naturally” contain vitamin B-12. Rather, food companies have added that nutrient to the food.
Vitamin B-12 Needs
Too little vitamin B-12 can cause a ton of issues. Such as, anaemia, fatigue, stomach issues, constipation, unintended weight loss, neurological changes, confusion, and a sore mouth or tongue. It is unlikely someone can get too much vitamin B-12. But we are concerned about not getting enough.
Food Sources of Vitamin B-12
- Beef liver
- Fortified nutritional yeast
- Fortified cereal
- Chicken breast
Vitamin B-12 is primarily found in animal products. Older adults who do not consume animal products should be mindful of consuming vitamin B-12 fortified foods. And supplements when advised by a health care provider..
Fibre and Seniors
Key Nutrients for Seniors. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. So then, fibre plays a role in digestion. And feeling full, preventing constipation, and even reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
The RDA for fibre is actually less for older adults than for younger adults. So why am I saying seniors need more fibre?? The RDA being lower in older adults can be a little misleading because the reality is that 95% of adults fail to meet the RDA.
So, we’re not eating enough fibre in general. However, older adults may need less than younger adults, but 95% are still not eating what they need. Thus, yes, most older adults do need more fibre.
Too little fibre can cause constipation or even an increased risk of chronic disease. But too much fibre can cause stomach issues, including bloating, gas, and cramping. Especially if fibre is added to the diet too quickly! Make sure you increase fibre gradually.
Men typically need a little more fibre than women. The RDA for men ages 51+ is 30 grams per day. The RDA for women ages 51+ is 21 grams per day.
Food Sources of Fibre
- Black beans
- Whole wheat bread
- Brown rice
Consequently, some seniors are not able to get adequate fibre through food alone. Besides, taking a supplement like psyllium (ex. Metamucil) or methylcellulose (ex. Citrucel) may be needed for some people. Therefore, check with a healthcare provider to determine the best plan for supplemental fibre.
Protein and Seniors
Key Nutrients for Seniors. Protein is a macro-nutrient found in every single cell in the body. It is essential for life. In addition, protein also aids in immunity, muscle, and physical function in seniors.
For example, protein in seniors could be an entire blog post topic in itself. Here’s the bottom line, the RDA for older adults is the same as for younger adults. However, emerging research suggests seniors may indeed require more protein. Endurance and resistance training exercises are also advised to promote muscle health.
And we want to protect the muscles of ageing adults! Muscle mass decreases with age (this is known as “sarcopenia”). Furthermore, this can lead to frailty, disability, loss of independence, and death. Protein and calories (we’ll discuss calories next!) are so important for protecting muscle in older adults.
Too little protein can cause malnutrition and/or muscle loss. However, too much can cause dehydration and, in those with kidney disease, can cause further kidney damage. The RDA for all adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. In addition, emerging research suggests older adults may need more protein.
Researchers recommend that older adults consume 1-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. There are 2.2 kilograms per pound. Using a 150 lb person, 1-1.2 grams per kilogram body weight would be 68-82 gms of protein per day.
Now please remember that endurance and resistance training exercises are also advised to promote muscle health and increase protein intake. The two go hand in hand in protecting the muscles.
Food Sources of Protein
- Green peas
Here, some of the foods highest in protein come from animal sources. Subsequently, fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts also contain protein. So, older adults who consume vegetarian diets should be sure to eat a wide variety of plant-based high, protein foods.
Calories and Seniors
I want to wrap up this article by discussing calories. Now, NOT every senior needs more calories. In fact, many seniors need fewer calories. But there are circumstances when calories become a KEY nutrient, like unintended weight loss (and, in turn- malnutrition).
Calories for Stopping Unintended Weight Loss
Any time a senior starts losing weight unintentionally, they are losing muscle. But when this happens, providing calories is key. Therefore, calories stop unintended weight loss, and this is SO important. Here, you can learn more about this in our article Weight Loss in older adults Must Be Stopped.
Also, we want to stop unintended weight loss in older adults to preserve their muscles and maintain their independence. So, while not every older adult needs more calories- this one is VERY important anytime an older adult starts losing weight.
Food Sources of Calories
- Whole milk
- Olive Oil
- Peanut butter
- Cottage Cheese
You can get more information on high-calorie foods by reading High-Calorie Smoothies for Weight Gain or Weight Gain Smoothies: Stopping Unintended Weight Loss in Older Adults.
For some additional resources, check out my freebie on RD2RD Marketplace High-Calorie Shakes. It includes The King of Calories recipe with a whopping 1200 calories! And it’s delicious! My High-Calorie Foods SERIES on RD2RD includes a high-calorie food list, grocery list, and meal planner to help implement high-calorie foods into the diet of an older adult.
Senior nutrition needs are different. All nutrients are important. But vitamin D, calcium, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, fibre, protein, and calories are KEY! So then, you can get these from your diet. However, as we age, we sometimes cannot absorb nutrients efficiently, and in that case, a supplement may be required. Please note that if a supplement is required, it should be the decision of your health provider. Also, only your health provider can test for and diagnose any deficiency that requires a supplement.
Important Note *
Remember that everyone is different, and it is ultimately YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to find what your body responds to. So please do your due diligence before trying anything new, including getting Medical Advice to ensure your safety and peace of mind.
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4 replies on “Key Nutrients for Seniors”
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Hi Barry, thank you for your kind words, all the very best Ian
I think Magnesium is another very important nutrient for adults over 70 to retain muscle strength and to reduce inflammation in joints.
Hi Raghavan, you are right, the post was about the key nutrients we need as we age, and if you look at the foods listed for those key nutrients there are a number that also contain high levels of Magnesium. Thank you for commenting, all the best Ian