Maintaining a proper diet is an essential element of a healthy lifestyle and important to reduce the risk of disease. The six essential nutrients are carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. Do you know that the amount of nutrition needed by your body varies with age? Yes, your dietary requirements in your 50s, 60s, and beyond are different from what they were at younger ages. In youth, proper nutrition helps growth and in adulthood, it promotes health and slow aging.
The world’s population and that of many countries is aging rapidly. In the U.S., the proportion of adults older than 65 is growing and according to the Census Bureau, life expectancy is 78 years. Good nutrition plays a key role in healthy aging, though their health at any point of time would depend on past experience and a wide variety of factors such as dietary patterns, physical fitness, chronic health conditions and mental health. Generally speaking, experts recommend a diet that includes some key nutrients for those in their 60s and above to facilitate healthy aging.
- Meals and snacks should be nutritious and include fewer calories. As a person enters the retirement phase, hormonal changes, decrease in physical activity and a loss of muscle mass reduces the need for energy or calories. But the need for nutrients remains more or less the same and in fact it increases when you cross 70.
- The protein requirement for people above 19 years of age is same. However, many experts recommend higher protein intake as we age to help fight skeletal muscle loss that some people experience after age 65. Additional protein can also help in quicker recovery from illnesses. Lean meat, eggs, dairy foods, poultry, fish, and legumes are great choices.
- Vitamin B12 is responsible for creating red blood cells and DNA, and maintaining healthy nerve function. Extra intake of Vitamin B12 is needed for elderly to fight atrophic gastritis – chronic infection of the stomach mucosa, which is generally seen in people 50 or older and makes absorption of Vitamin B12 difficult.
- Magnesium plays a vital role in some 300 diverse physiological processes. So include as many unprocessed foods as possible in your diet such as fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, beans and seeds. Magnesium is necessary to boost your immune system and keep your heart healthy, and your bones strong.
- Similarly, calcium and vitamin D both are essential to maintain strong bones and prevent osteoporosis as you age. However, as with many other essential minerals, the ability of the body to convert vitamin D into a usable form declines with age. Nutritionists therefore recommend higher intake levels of these vitamins in people 70 and older than for other adults.
Supplements may be necessary for seniors, but should not replace a healthy diet. Moreover, supplements should be taken only on a doctor’s advice.
Nutrition scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University have developed “MyPlate for Older Adults”, which is an excellent guide on what healthy, older adults should be eating. It recommends foods that contain high levels of vitamins and minerals per serving as well as cutting down on foods high in trans and saturated fats, salt and added sugars. It is important to note that the MyPlate for Older Adults guidelines also include physical activity such as walking, resistance training and light cleaning.