May 5, 2021
As people age, their bodies benefit from a shift in their everyday diet. Being smart about what and how they eat can provide a huge health boost to seniors, while strengthening their body and mind.
Take a close look at your diet to make sure you're getting the nutrition you need, no matter your age.
It is important to remember that everyone’s diet is different, especially considering any special medical needs. Generally speaking, here are four surefire focus areas to boost nutrition for a healthy diet as an older adult.
- Calcium and bone strength
With age, some people experience a decrease in their mobility. Arthritis, dizziness, gait issues, or muscle degeneration can all contribute to losses in regular movement or exercise, which in turn can weaken muscles, and more importantly, bones.
Additionally, as people age, the body can tend to reabsorb calcium and phosphate instead of retaining these minerals within the bones. If this reabsorption gets too intense, it is called osteoporosis.
Eating foods rich in calcium helps to fortify and replenish bone structure.
Plentiful sources of calcium include dairy products like milk, yogurt, cheese, and calcium-fortified beverages such as almond, oat, and soy milk. Calcium can also be found in dark-green leafy vegetables like kale, legumes like peas and beans, fish and seafood, bananas, potatoes, and hot cereals like oatmeal.
Bonus tip: It’s not enough to consume foods rich in calcium only - in order to absorb that calcium, our bodies need vitamin D. Fatty proteins like salmon, herring, liver, or egg yolks are great sources.
Foods are the ideal way to get calcium and vitamin D, but sometimes physicians may recommend 400 IU daily vitamin supplements. Always check with your doctor or dietician, especially if you are already experiencing any effects of osteoporosis.
- Vitamin B12 and energy
Starting at around age 50, normal daily energy levels can begin to drop. Seniors can sometimes experience what is called food malabsorption, where intestinal issues, or just age in general, can lead to lower levels of vitamin B12 (also known as cobalamin).
Vitamin B12 helps the body generate red blood cells and maintain the proper function of nerve cells. Preexisting pancreas or stomach issues, or being on medication to reduce stomach acid, can make vitamin B12 deficiency more likely.
Lethargy in older age is normal to an extent, but daily supplementation to help absorb key nutrients in food can really help kick the doldrums. As with calcium deficiency, decreased mobility due to low energy can lead to further bone problems, declining heart strength, and a compromised immune system.
Keep an eye on your vitamin B12 levels to combat a decrease in energy.
Dietary sources of vitamin B12 include beef, liver, mackerel, sardines, red meat (which also have vitamin D!), yogurt, fortified cereals, and fortified leavening agents like yeast.
If you have any absorption problems in the stomach or intestines, your physician might suggest you get supplemental vitamin B12 through intramuscular shots. These are given on a scheduled basis at normal health checkups, and there are some B12 clinics depending on where you live
Alternatively, oral vitamin B12 supplements (1,000-2,000 micrograms) in pill or gummy form have also been shown to help, though oral B12 can take longer to absorb than intramuscular shots. They are often recommended for maintenance rather than medical deficiency. Speak with your doctor about the best plan for you.
- Fiber and blood glucose
Age can affect regularity in blood glucose levels, sometimes leading to type 2 diabetes, which is a pervasive disease among the older American population. Seniors who fast, those who are on a special diet, or people who are obese are at highest risk for unstable blood gluocse.
To keep blood sugars in check, consuming sufficient dietary fiber helps. Fiber slows down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, which decreases the amount of glucose in the blood. In people with diabetes, soluble fiber can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve their blood sugar levels.
In addition, fiber packs some powerful heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure, and it’s key to healthy digestion, lowering cholesterol, and triggering bowel regularity, all of which lead to a manageable weight.
The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get at least 28 grams of fiber per day, and that over 90% of American adults fall short of the recommended intake.
To beat that statistic, consume plant foods like carrots, beets, and broccoli, fruits like raspberries, apples, and mango, and nuts, chia seeds, and whole grains. Not only are they delicious, but they’re also packed with fiber.
Another option is fiber supplements, which are generally made in many flavors and dissolve into beverages to encourage hydration. Capsule or pill forms also exist, depending on preference.
- Probiotics and gut health
Lastly, gastrointestinal, or GI, function can slow down or become compromised as we age. This can lead to digestive discomfort or your body not being able to absorb important nutrients.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that occur naturally in healthy intestines to help keep GI functions working well. They are “good” bacteria that we need, and they kickstart absorption of calcium and other crucial vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, probiotics can be lost with age or killed off by common antibiotics for infections.
Seniors are particularly susceptible to unbalanced gut health since their immune systems suppress with age and they tend to take antibiotics and other medications more frequently than other populations.
It is vitally important to replenish and maintain your healthy gut flora so your digestive system can thrive, whether you’re taking medications or not. You’ll find naturally-occurring probiotics in fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, or even pickles, and many yogurts are manufactured with higher probiotic “colonies” to help your gut. Probiotics can also be packaged in capsules or mixed in and combined with protein supplements.
At Three Pillars, an important part of our mission is offering high quality services that support the overall health and wellbeing of the older adults we serve. We empower our residents to be informed about their health and the diet that works best for them. Our Executive Chef, Dietitian, and dining services team prepare cuisine with our residents’ health and feedback in mind, resulting in nutritional and delectable meals every day of the week.
Whether you reside at Three Pillars, another senior living community, or your own home, we encourage you to eat well-rounded meals, as well. It’s an easy and delicious step towards feeling great in older age --- and you deserve it!