While good nutrition is important at every age, it is especially important for healthy aging. Older adults have special nutritional needs, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and many people do not get the nutrients they need to stay active and healthy.
In a perfect world, you would get all the nutrients you need through the food you eat. Unfortunately, the modern American does not always consume the most nutritious food, and this is especially true for people who rely on the convenience of packaged or prepared food.
To make matters worse, your body may not always absorb all the nutrients in your food. Inadequate nutrition can affect how you feel and even lead to the development of certain medical conditions and disease.
All nutrients are important to some degree for healthy aging, but inadequate intake of some nutrients could make you feel terrible and potentially have serious consequences.
5 Nutrients a Body Needs for Healthy Aging
Calcium keeps your bones and teeth strong to help you avoid fractures and maintain a beautiful smile. Having a calcium deficiency can increase your risk for developing the frail, weak bones of osteoporosis or poor bone density, known as osteopenia. Osteoporosis and osteopenia increase your risk for bone fractures.
You can get calcium your body needs from milk and milk products, some types of tofu, kale and dark-green leafy vegetables, soybeans, salmon and other seafood. Look for calcium-fortified products, such as orange juice and cereals.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium to protect your bones. Older people are at particular risk for vitamin D inadequacy for a number of reasons, including low intake of foods rich in vitamin D and medical conditions that prevent absorption of nutrients
One of the main reasons for vitamin D deficiency in seniors is that many older adults do not consume enough foods rich in vitamin D, such as fortified milk and fatty fish. They also have less exposure to sunshine, which helps the human body manufacture vitamin D.
Some conditions can prevent your body from absorbing vitamin D from the food you eat. Atrophic gastritis decreases certain chemicals in your stomach acid essential to absorbing vitamin D. People with pernicious anemia lack a substance, known as intrinsic factor, which helps the body absorb vitamin D.
The National Institutes of Health estimates 10 to 30 percent of older adults have atrophic gastritis and 1 to 2 percent of seniors have pernicious anemia. Other gastrointestinal disorders, such as celiac and Crohn’s disease, or gastrointestinal surgery, may inhibit the absorption of vitamin D.
3. Vitamin B12
Your body needs vitamin B12 to perform a number of jobs, including the tasks of making red blood cells, DNA and nerves. If you are over age 50, you may be losing your ability to absorb vitamin B12 from the food you eat, according to the National Library of Medicine.
You can get vitamin B12 only through animal proteins — plants do not contain this important vitamin. Beef liver and other organ meats, shellfish, poultry, eggs and dairy products naturally contain vitamin B12. Food manufacturers may fortify breakfast cereals and yeast with vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause exhaustion, a fast heartbeat, poor balance and tingling in the arms and legs.
Potassium helps the cells of your body communicate. This mineral is important to muscle movement, especially to the movement of the muscles in your heart. Low potassium can cause severe muscle fatigue, weakness and muscle cramps.
Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and collards, are your best sources of potassium, as well as grapes, blackberries, carrots, potatoes and citrus fruits.
Dietary fiber is the indigestible part of plant foods. While you may already know that fiber relieves constipation, you may not realize that fiber can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes and other serious illnesses.
Raspberries, bananas, oranges, strawberries and raisins are good sources of fiber, as are pears and apples with the skins. Whole-wheat breads and pasta, bran flakes, brown rice and oatmeal also contain the fiber you need to stay regular.
To learn more information on nutrition and healthy aging, talk with your doctor or nutritionist. Developing a personalized eating plan may help you feel better and improve your health.